Prominent academic and head of government watchdog body Ivor Chipkin was forced to resign amid a series of harassment accusations. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane

Johannesburg - A well-known academic, media commentator and head of a government watchdog has resigned in the wake of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him.
Professor Ivor Chipkin, now former executive director of the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari), tendered his resignation on September 6, with the board of the organisation accepting it with immediate effect five days later.

The Saturday Star understands the resignation came shortly before a disciplinary process into Chipkin’s alleged misconduct was set to take place.

The Joburg-based organisation is known for its extensive research into state capture and studies the effectiveness of the state in service delivery and infrastructure.

According to Pari's website, its goal is to generate high-quality research to “understand the drivers of institutional performance in the public sector, and improve the implementation of policies in relevant fields”.

Chipkin, an Oppenheimer fellow, has held positions at the University of Oxford, Wits University and the University of Cape Town.

The Saturday Star has learnt that his departure from Pari came after an extensive probe by Wits University’s gender equity office (GEO) into his alleged inappropriate conduct.

On Thursday, Pari research manager and interim executive director Mbongiseni Buthelezi explained that the allegations had been registered from multiple complainants in June this year.

Buthelezi said they immediately placed Chipkin on special leave and brought in the GEO as “independent, impartial” investigators.

“We didn’t want to pre-judge anything, but we made it a priority to protect the rights of the complainants, which was our primary responsibility,” Buthelezi said.

The GEO report was finalised last month, and the Saturday Star understands that it recommended that a disciplinary hearing take place.

Buthelezi insisted he was not aware of the report’s findings, but did confirm he was aware of a potential disciplinary hearing.

However, he did not wish to comment on the timing of Chipkin’s resignation.

In a written response to the Saturday Star, Chipkin claimed the investigation process was mismanaged.

“I immediately stepped away from the workplace to allow the process to commence and availed myself to the GEO’s process,” he said.

“The GEO, in turn, informed me that they would afford me an opportunity to review the allegations and offer my account, the substance of which would be considered for inclusion in their final report.

“I was also informed of the timeline of the process and the steps leading to the conclusion of the final report.

"Regretfully, my experience of the manner in which the process played itself out did not conform to what was initially communicated. I was never given an opportunity to see the allegations and at no point was I invited to submit my response to the GEO. The report was finalised without any engagement with me. I felt that the process compromised the rights of all concerned,” he said.

“Three months after the allegations had surfaced, in the absence of any formal charges or a stated way forward from the board, and with a final report from the GEO that had not reflected my contribution, I felt it most prudent to resolve the process by tendering my resignation.”

Earlier this year, the Mail & Guardian reported on sexual harassment claims made against Doron Isaacs, co-founder of activist organisation Equal Education, who has also since resigned. An inquiry was set to take place in the coming months.

In June, Grant Thornton Johannesburg chief executive Paul Badrick resigned pending the outcome of a sexual harassment probe against him. One of the complainants alleged she was axed after laying a sexual harassment charge against the company’s head of forensics, prompting the probe.

This week, the City Press reported that an SA Airlink senior pilot was accused of sexual harassment, and that the lesbian complainant was fired for alleged damage to property. The pilot allegedly exposed his genitals to her and said because she was a lesbian she “had never had a taste of a real man”, and he wanted to show her what “a real man is”.

At the end of the last month, a survey by insights agency Columinate alleged that 30% of South Africa’s women and 18% of its men had been victims of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.

The Saturday Star