Note by PW: On Friday the Mail & Guardian reported that Equal Education’s co-founder Doron Isaacs had been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, and Zackie Achmat, who chaired the organisation’s board for a time, had been accused of covering his tracks. The newspaper's sources were not named. Both Isaacs and Achmat vehemently denied the allegations. This follows a report last week by the newspaper of allegations of sexual harassment directed against the organisation’s former head, Tshepo Motsepe, which led to his resignation last month. One issue raised by the newspaper this week was a 2011 inquiry, led by Paul Ensor, and requested by Isaacs, in response to rumours that he was involved in sexual harassment. Below is the letter from Ensor to the M&G responding to questions on this matter, with the relevant documentation (including the findings of the inquiry) attached. Nathan Geffen's reply to the M&G report follows at the end:
Letter from Paula Ensor to Simon Allison of the Mail & Guardian:
17 May 2018
I was involved in Equal Education for a period of time as a member of the EE Board, which later gave way to the National Council as the overall governing body. I chaired the HR subcommittee of the Board and inter alia was involved in a number of disciplinary issues.
The role of the committee was to advise the head, Doron Isaacs at the time, on staff polices, disciplinary matters, salaries etc. Also on this subcommittee were Nathan Geffen, Michelle Adler and Sean Feinberg.
In 2011 Doron approached Zackie Achmat, the EE Board chair, to request an investigation of rumours that were circulating about him, namely that he had had an affair with an intern working in EE and that she had left the organization as a result of this. Zackie delegated conduct of this investigation to members of the human resources sub-committee I attach to my letter a letter sent by Zackie Achmat to myself, Nathan and Michelle at the time, asking us to constitute a panel to investigate the rumours circulating about Doron.
The terms of reference of this panel are very clearly set out – there is no need for me to repeat them here.
We were asked to constitute the investigation panel because of our membership of the HR subcommittee. I was not particularly friendly with Doron at this time – my interaction with him was confined largely to meetings and other events related to Equal Education.
We proceeded with the investigation according to the guidelines set out by Zackie. We established beyond doubt through correspondence with the person named in the rumours that Doron had not had an affair with her, and established that she had never worked at EE and subsequently could not have left on that account, even if it were true.
No allegations of sexual harassment were made by anyone and we consequently drafted the report we did. Had such a complaint been made we would have reported this to the full Board, which I have no doubt would have established an independent panel to take the matter further. But it never came to that. I repeat that no allegations were brought to us of sexual misconduct by Doron Isaacs.
After we completed our investigation I sent a copy of the report to two of the people we believed to be close to the rumours. Neither of them came back to me to suggest that there were further cases that should be investigated, or that we had failed to carry out our mandate.
Given this context, I will now respond to your questions:
1. At the time of the investigation I vaguely knew Doron’s brother Gilad, who had been involved in the Social Justice Coalition at some point. I was not close to Doron. I knew him through my involvement in Equal Education – I sat on the National Council of the organisaton and chaired the HR subcommittee. I became closer to Doron after the investigation, and met his parents once thereafter.
2. In my view there was not a conflict of interest. I was not close to Doron at that stage.
3. As I have indicated, the panel was constituted from the HR subcommittee. I do not know how close the other members were to Doron at the time – you would need to ask them. I believe we carried out our mandate. If there are doubts about fairness, I would strongly encourage a re-opening of the investigation to that it can be decisively laid to rest.
4. Yes I do believe we followed due process. Once the report was completed, I sent it to two of the people we believed to be close to the rumours. Please see my comment on this above.
5. There were no complainants Simon – it is really important to emphasise this.
6. If we had found prima facie evidence of sexual harassment, we would have referred this to the Board, as requested by Zackie in his letter. We found no evidence of sexual harassment, and no complainants came forward.
As I have indicated, if there is a perception that the panel failed to carry out its mandate diligently and with integrity, it should be re-opened and investigated again.
Letter from Zackie Achmat constituting an investigation, 8 June 2011
Dear Paula, Nathan and Michelle
Apologies for the delay. I have had time to consider the difficult questions of rumours regarding Doron raised in the call Paula made to me last Friday and subsequently by Doron himself in two telephone calls. I have also had a telephone conversation with Michelle and last night with Joey Hasson. Doron and Joey have also sent me emails concerning these rumours.
I have been asked in my capacity as chairperson of the Board of Equal Education (EE) to agree to the examination of the rumours of personal, private, consensual conversations of a sexual nature between adults over emails relating to a staff member. The rumours allege that Doron Isaacs used his position of authority as EE coordinator to establish these virtual sexual relationships with women associated with the organisation.
The basis for this highly unusual request is NOT based on a complaint by any of the women concerned but primarily by the desire of Doron Isaacs (the EE coordinator) to ensure that the organisation is not harmed and his name is cleared. Joey Hasson (EE Youth and Campaigns Coordinator) has also requested (in conversation with me and in an email included below) that the rumours be examined.
I stated my discomfort with the request to examine rumours that involve adult sexual behaviour where there is no complainant. I explained to Joey that regardless of Doron's request to examine the rumours this in fact makes EE the complainant and potentially opens the door of organisation to peddlers of rumours.
I am however persuaded as chairperson of the Board that the continued rumours are damaging to Doron Isaacs and by extension to Equal Education. I accept the request by Doron Isaacs to allow for an examination of these rumours. I enclose the email by Joey Hasson only as evidence of rumours.
I am out of the country until 19 June 2011 and therefore as Chairperson of the Board, I request that Professor Paula Ensor and Nathan Geffen as representatives of the Board and Michelle Adler on behalf of the EE management handle the matter. You may choose to examine the allegations directly or seek the assistance of an independent, competent and mature person.
In my view as Chairperson of the Board, the following questions must be asked and answered:
1. Can any evidence be provided by the people who are spreading the rumours or making the allegations that there is a connection between EE and any of the women named?
2. If there is such a connection is there any evidence that connects the women to Doron Isaacs beyond the rumours.
3. If the above questions are answered affirmatively then the rumours must be tested by against the EE policy on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
In the absence of a complaint by the women, it is vital that the following issues must be taken into account: first, the privacy of the women concerned and the harm that an investigation with or without foundation may cause them and the organisation. Even in the case that there were a deviation from the formal policies of EE, it should be kept in mind that such policies were put in place not in order to regiment the personal lives of members and staff, but rather to provide protection to those who may need it and seek it. These policies were in no way put in place to force "protection" on women when they are not interested in it, or to uphold a "moral" standard in regard to people's personal live.
Second, Doron Isaacs is one of the best leaders of the post-apartheid period in our country and if there is no truth to the rumours of an abuse of power then the organisation must consider any request he makes for reparation. Third, this is donethe best interests of the organisation and last, if there is evidence of misconduct that the matter be referred to the whole Board for appropriate action.
I include the email from Joey Hasson below [not included].
Chairperson: Equal Education Board
The report drafted by the panel set up to carry out the investigation.
STATEMENT BY THE HUMAN RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE EQUAL EDUCATION BOARD
13 June 2011
STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL: FOR MEMBERS OF THE EQUAL EDUCATION BOARD, MANAGEMENT AND CERTAIN OTHERS ONLY, AS AGREED BY THE BOARD
In early June 2011, Doron Isaacs, Equal Education Co-ordinator, approached Zackie Achmat, Equal Education Chairperson, to inform him that a rumour was circulating among some members of the organisation that he had had relations of a sexual nature with an Equal Education intern, and that this had resulted in this person leaving the organisation. Doron requested that this be investigated.
Joey Hasson, Head of Youth and Community in Equal Education, articulated similar rumours in an email to Zackie.
Zackie subsequently asked the Human Resources Committee of the Board of Equal Education to investigate this matter. This required a preliminary investigation by the Human Resources Committee.
The Human Resources Committee met on Saturday 11 June. In doing so it reviewed the written statements that it had received, some of which were based on interviews and correspondence with staff and volunteers of Equal Education. The committee also directly interviewed Joey and Doron.
This preliminary investigation was unusual in that no interested party had lodged a complaint or grievance against Doron, nor was any evidence presented that anybody in any way felt wronged by Doron. There was therefore no compulsion for this investigation to take place, other than the fact that Doron had himself requested it.
In the deliberations personal details about several people of an extremely private nature were divulged in confidence. It therefore would be inappropriate for this Committee to place this correspondence in the public domain.
CONSIDERATION OF THE CLAIMS MADE
Based on the written submissions to us, and on the basis of the interviews conducted, the subcommittee finds;
1. That there is not a shred of evidence to support any claim or suggestion that Doron had an intimate relationship with an EE intern which resulted in her leaving the organisation or that he at any time used his position of authority in EE to make unwelcome advances to women either employed by, or associated with, the organisation.
2. That there is no evidence to support any rumour or claim that any woman associated with EE, or in the process of being drawn into association with EE, or recruited to EE, ended this association on the basis of unwelcome advances by Doron.
3. Furthermore, in relation to allegations of intimate relations with women with no connection to EE, the committee took the view that Doron’s private life was not its concern.
The subcommittee therefore concluded that there is no evidence whatsoever that Doron has engaged in misconduct and that there is no basis for any further investigation of this matter.
We thank Doron for bringing these concerns first to the attention of the Equal Education management committee, and subsequently for writing to the chairperson of the Board to indicate that the matter required his attention. We thank both him and Joey Hasson for their full participation in this process.
Finally, we are deeply concerned about rumour-mongering. Members of an organisation must be careful to respect the privacy of others and not to fuel the spread of damaging and false allegations.
We consider this matter closed.
THE HUMAN RESOURCES COMMITTEE OF THE EQUAL EDUCATION BOARD
PROFESSOR PAULA ENSOR
E-mailed response to the Mail & Guardian by Nathan Geffen, 18 May 2018
A report in the Mail & Guardian this morning suggests I was involved in a cover up of sexual misconduct. I was not approached for comment.
Paula Ensor chaired the 2011 investigation at Equal Education mentioned in the article. I sat on it with her and two other people (also unfairly treated by the M&G this morning). We constituted the Human Resources Sub-Committee of the Equal Education board. It was in our mandate to deal with disciplinary issues and therefore correct that we constituted the investigating committee.
I've attached the findings of the investigation, our brief for that investigation by Zackie Achmat who chaired Equal Education at the time, and Paula's detailed reply that she sent to the Mail & Guardian yesterday. The M&G had these documents and, as you can verify by reading them, very selectively quoted from them and omitted vital information.
We conducted the investigation despite the fact that there was no complainant. This exceeded what was required of due process. This is now shamefully painted by the M&G as an unfair process and a cover up, by unnamed sources who likely were some of the people aggrieved by the findings of the investigation. While the M&G may withhold the names of people who allege to have been sexually harassed, it is unfair journalism not to have named the people who have cast aspersions on the 2011 investigation. Not once in the seven years since this investigation have I heard claims that the investigation was unfair, until now.
The members of the investigating committee acted with integrity. A problem with this kind of reporting by the M&G is that it dissuades people from sitting on committees that investigate sexual misconduct, and moreover dissuades the members of such committees from reaching fair conclusions based on available evidence.