NEWS & ANALYSIS

Zackie Achmat's response to M&G allegations of cover-up of sexual misconduct

Activist says no sexual misconduct survivor ever approached him to his face with allegations regarding EE's Doron Isaacs

Response to allegations of cover-up of sexual misconduct

18 May 2018

I have been accused of obstructing and defeating the ends of justice for survivors of sexual misconduct and therefore I have chosen to support the fullest inquiry into any aspect of my work over decades in regard to covering up sexual misconduct and creating a conducive environment for such conduct (see M&G report here).

I want to issue a response to reports in today's Mail & Guardian that I tried to cover up cases of sexual harassment in Equal Education. The media has a duty to scrutinise the conduct of any person in power and I welcome any such opportunity. I held the Mail & Guardian in the highest regard and would have welcomed a face-to-face interview where every allegation was put to me.

I have worked to resist the daily violence inflicted on women by men. I have come to recognise with the assistance of women comrades the deep patriarchal culture that exists within myself, organisations especially progressive movements, and our society at large.

When a survivor has approached me with any allegation of such abuse I have offered support and tried to ensure justice is served. I have always encouraged anyone with knowledge or allegations of harassment to file formal complaints and have at all times tried to ensure that the privacy of complainants is respected.

I am mindful of why survivors of any form of sexual misconduct, harassment, or assault find it extremely difficult to make complaints or lay charges especially to people in power and particularly men in power.

As leaders within movements, particularly men, we have a duty to ensure that spaces are created for women to feel safe to speak about any unwelcome advance, uncomfortable flirtation and abuse of male power in society and the workplace.

It has become clear that much more needs to be done about sexual misconduct and I accept full responsibility for not doing enough.

In regard to specific allegations in today's Mail & Guardian, no survivor of sexual misconduct has ever approached me to my face with allegations of sexual harassment regarding Doron Isaacs. It would be an act of violence against any complainant of sexual misconduct to suggest "she asked for it". Anyone who knows me will realise that this is something I would never do.

I was aware of rumours addressed to me by four friends, but no formal complaints were made by them or by survivors of sexual misconduct which limited an opportunity to address these rumours. I have always said that a complainant must be encouraged to approach Equal Education as has recently happened with Tshepo Motsepe and Luyolo Mazwembe. However, I could have done better in proactively addressing the issue of culture at Equal Education despite not having been in the organisation since 2012.

An inquiry would assist in uncovering the truth of the Mail & Guardian's accusations. I attach below my responses to the Mail & Guardian's questions in full. I will also participate fully with ongoing investigations into misconduct at Equal Education.

Zackie Achmat

Cape Town

Text of Zackie Achmat's replies to questions from the M&G:

From: Zackie Achmat
Date: 17 May 2018 at 12:19:09 SAST
To: Simon Allison [Mail & Guardian]
Subject: Response to allegations of covering up and obstructing justice in matters of sexual harassment and misconduct

Dear Simon

1. Relationship with Doron and Equal Education:

I've known Doron since 2002. He is a very close friend and comrade. Doron and I, among others, helped establish Equal Education, which I chaired for a while. I have not been directly involved in EE for several years but I have worked closely with its younger leaders and parents group on the issues of state capture over the last year.

2. What was your role in the investigation?

The email I sent you with the terms of reference sets out my request for an inquiry into the allegations and rumours against Doron Isaacs based on his own initiative in this matter. Please feel free to ask me any further questions about the email. I did not conduct the investigation; that was carried out by the Human Resources Sub-Commitee, as you have seen from the findings of that sub-committee which I understand you have been sent (if not, I am willing to send it to you).

3. Awareness of claims

I am mindful and have an understanding of why survivors of any form of sexual misconduct, harassment, or assault find it extremely difficult to make complaints or lay charges especially to people in power and particularly men in power. To the best of my recollection no survivor has made a claim of sexual harassment against Doron to me directly. I am not aware of anyone who has been harassed, or claims to be harassed, by Doron.

I have always encouraged anyone with knowledge or allegations of harassment to file formal complaints and have at all times tried to ensure that the privacy of complainants is respected.

4. Threats to complainants

No. I have never threatened anyone who wished to file a complaint of sexual or other misconduct. Have I spoken firmly to people who have spread rumours or allegations of sexual or other misconduct without evidence as fact or faith? Most definitely.

5. Have I threatened careers?

I've ended the careers of dishonest people - people who have stolen or been corrupt, people who have been incompetent, and people who've acted violently towards people, especially men abusing women - over 40 years of public life. I have at times said intemperate things to those people and for that reason some people dislike me. But to the extent that there is any sensible context or meaning to this vague question, the answer is no, I have not threatened anyone's career.

In response to these allegations I will ask the organisations I work with to establish an independent inquiry into my conduct to determine whether I have ever covered up sexual or other misconduct or obstructed justice for survivors.

I recognise that the deep patriarchal culture within myself, our society and organisations must be rigorously interrogated and where necessary sanctioned and remedied.

Finally, I would however appreciate it if you sent such an inquiry concrete allegations involving identifiable events so that I can address specific allegations. If you have any queries please send an email or WhatsApp.

Thanks.

Zackie Achmat

Issued by Zackie Achmat via Twitter and Facebook, 18 May 2018