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Johannesburg - University of the Witwatersrand vice chancellor Adam Habib took full responsibility on Wednesday for the abuses committed on its campuses.
“I want to apologise to all those individuals who experienced sexual harassment,” he said.
“Wits should be a safe space and we will ensure that it is,” Habib said during the release of a report on sexual harassment.
Habib welcomed the report for its rigour and constructive recommendations.
He said parents whose children had been harassed were “truly angry”.
“If it had been my kids I would (also) be outraged.”
The university accepted the report's critiques.
“(The report) critically highlights the inadequacy of the university's systems to address rumours and allegations decisively, or to support those affected by predatory sexual behaviour.”
He said a task team would be put together which would include members of the vice-chancellor's office, experts in various fields, including gender and psychology, as well as student representatives.
In April, the university appointed a legal firm to investigate sexual harassment claims following an article in the Sunday Times newspaper which claimed that a lecturer in the university's drama department had harassed a number of his students.
“It had been an exhaustive investigation,” Habib said.
Four staff members were investigated.
In July, the university fired two staff members for sexual harassment after disciplinary hearings, which were chaired by Habib.
“The third case will be determined soon and the fourth is yet to begin,” Habib said.
The director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at the university, Professor Bonita Meyersfeld, said drafting the report was a challenge.
“The report has been one of the most difficult for the whole team because you are dealing with one's own university,” Meyersfeld said.
Students and staff members were initially reluctant to come forward when the inquiry began in February. But in the final two months of the inquiry, more people started coming forward.
The team in charge of drafting the report comprised three lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright SA and two members, including Meyersfeld, from CALS.
The inquiry was completed on August 15.
One of the report's findings was that the university had a “vague” policy on sexual harassment which made it difficult for people to come forward.
The report recommended that the university create a very clear and broad definition of sexual harassment in order to explain the range of activity that constitutes it.
“A number of our staff and students feel the university has not done enough, we need to prove ourselves to them,” said Habib.
“What we will do is acknowledge and craft a plan to comprehensively address the challenge. You don't run from it.” - Sapa