Barbara Watson, Chairperson of the internal Commission of inquiry into sexual harassment reports at SABC. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/Africa News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - Lotus FM in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal had the highest incidents of sexual harassment and violence against women compared to the rest of the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) entities.

Barbara Watson, chairwoman of a commission appointed by the SABC to probe sexual harassment at the public broadcaster, said complainants likened the corporation to a "brothel ran by prostitutes".

"Based on cases we have seen, it appears there are serious problems of gender-based violence at Lotus FM, followed by Channel Africa. Some of the problems are systemic," Watson said. 

"I don't think management has tackled this problem. Former [Lotus FM journalist] Vanessa Govender's book referred to someone who was still in the employ of the SABC [at Lotus FM]. We also got more details out of that [book] ...our view is that there are far too many cases from that station."

Govender's book, 'Beaten But Not Broken', details her violent and abusive relationship with a former presenter at the station that lasted for five years. She penned an incident where the man pinned her down and raped her inside the SABC building housing the radio station.

Watson said the commission aimed to determine the prevalence and extent of the sexual abuse and the role of institutional culture in enabling it, and the reasons why the problem had not been tackled by management, despite the SABC having an existing policy against sexual harassment. Each case investigated had its own findings and recommendations.

The commission said there was a need for training of all SABC staff on gender equality and human rights. It recommended that the training focus on gender equality, violence against women.

"The skills of officials who serve on the sexual harassment panels must be enhanced. The SABC does not take sexual harassment seriously and the culture of sweeping things like sexual harassment under the carpet are prevalent.  SABC needs to develop a culture that embraces the enhancement of human rights and gender rights," said Watson.

Furthermore, the public broadcaster should urgently establish a structure outside its human resources department that will implement the commission's recommendations, and that another committee be established to monitor the implementation thereof. 

Watson said the SABC should consider developing an incentive to get people who were promoted through sexual favours to come forward, as was the case with amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the South African Revenue Services (Sars) for tax dodgers.

"The SABC policy on appointment of freelancers is very problematic because it gives excessive power to one or few individuals. This practice needs to change urgently so that the process can be more inclusive of other decision makers through interviewing panels with the positions advertised in line with normal standard recruitment procedures," she said. 

"One of the human resources policies that needs to be changed is the one that applies to freelancers and their entitlement to employment wellness programme in cases where the freelancer has been sexually abused."

Most of the complainants have since left the SABC, after being demoralised by management's inclination to take action against the perpetrators.

"A lot of the cases are historical, but when we investigated we found that people reported on time... but because of inefficiencies, they did not get justice. That is the result of failed processes forcing people out of the system," said Watson.

Commissioner Mfanozwele Shozi said some executives, "including those in positions of leadership and power" were implicated in the report.

African News Agency (ANA)