How male boss’s reaction to sexual harassment claim left even Gender Commission shocked
When revolutionary radio boss Tebogo Pooe received a sexual harassment complaint from a member of staff, his approach was contrary to what one would find in corporate South Africa - instead of hushing it up, or subjecting the complaint to in-house rigour, he took the unprecedented step of asking the Commission for Gender Equality to investigate.
Even they were surprised, as his response is not the norm in South Africa where companies in the private sector usually handle their own disciplinary processes around sexual harassment claims, or in instances, cover it up.
The former Soweto Radio broadcaster Pooe, founder and chairperson of Motswako Media Group, which owns You FM in Rustenburg, North-West Province, told the Sunday Independent that he recently contacted the CGE after receiving an anonymous complaint via WhatsApp to members of the radio station.
“I tell you, people were shocked at this stance,” said Pooe, one of the first presenters on the Soweto Community Radio in the early 1990s.
“But what spurred me into action was the claim in the correspondence that perpetrators are protected. That meant, that, by inference, I am harbouring people accused of wrong-doing,” he said.
“I sat with human resources and told them that when someone accuses the company of sexual harassment and further goes on to say that the perpetrators are protected, it implicates me. So I told them that we are going to write to the CGE and report ourselves to them, asking them to investigate us from top leadership to all staff.
“None of us are part of the committee. If the commission decides they need a committee, they must set one up and investigate everyone. Those found guilty, we will have to fire, but there must be criminal charges laid,” he said.
In the letter, Mamohapi Diseko, the GCE’s legal officer for the North West Provincial Office, confirmed that it would probe the complaint and asked for assistance in interviewing members of the team who may appear before the CGE.
Pooe, in his Soweto Radio days, was involved with the National Public Radio forum where at public forums, he was labelled a trouble-maker for asking many questions and strongly pushing the transformation agenda.
Raised to become the progressive man he is by a single mom, Pooe is a successful businessman with his company involved in food, healthcare and media via the station formerly known as North West FM.
The station was last year renamed, re-branded, and repositioned as You FM, an adult contemporary station which is also both “100% black-owned and 100% black-run”. As the station eyes expansion, with a signal that looks set to extend its broadcast closer to parts of Pretoria, Pooe is keen to ensure that the station ups its game.
He is keen to ensure that the highest standards are upheld by himself and staff members. “It also sends a message. That’s how serious we take issues of abuse,” he said, referring to the reason for taking the complaint to the gender body.
But Pooe said the commission called him seemingly bemused. “They said that they don’t understand the letter. Are you reporting that somebody is abusing you? they asked. No! I said, not me. I’m reporting the company. She said this hardly ever happens. How do you want us to handle this complaint?”
The commission confirmed this complaint falls within its mandate.
Pooe said he sent a letter to staff informing them of the probe jurisdiction, but received calls from female colleagues saying they did not know anything about the claims. “I said it’s not proper for anyone to say anything to anybody. Let’s wait for the investigation”.
Some individuals had attempted to come clean before Human Resources, but Pooe said he did want to entertain and run a separate process which may result in the company being complicit, preferring a process handled independently so that fairness and transparency would emerge triumphant.
“I need to subject myself to the same investigation too, and the idea is to send a strong message without trivialising it.
“I want all men at the station to be part of the journey, and it is about building a better society based on mutual respect,” he said.
But the buck does not stop here. On re-branding and relaunching the station last October, Pooe launched a “Don’t Call Me Bro” initiative driven by young presenters on the station.
“It’s a code, rather a commitment to name and shame peers who are responsible for acts of abuse. We will not accept being called bro or friend by anyone if we know that they have been abusive to their partner,” he said.
Pooe said the presenters challenged gender stereotypes on air saying “Don’t Call Me Bro” if you think whistling at a woman is cool.
He said while the station had a large rural audience which did not heed the gender message as he would have liked, initiatives such as this can play a positive part in spreading the message.
“This is a permanent project driven by young men at the station to call each other out and engender respect for women, thus helping sensitise men at the station and among the listeners.
“Given the horrible narrative of gender-based violence, we have to act now by taking a stand against women abuse.
“This is aimed at encouraging men to do better by taking a stand against women abuse,” he said.