Claims of sexual favours in KZN legislature

2014-07-06 15:00

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When Londiwe Sukazi joined the KwaZulu-Natal legislature as a communications intern last February, it seemed that the orphan from Esikhawini, Empangeni, had finally had a lucky break.

But the 23-year-old’s mentor, communications officer Wesley Canham, allegedly asked for hugs, kisses and massages behind closed doors.

Sukazi successfully charged Canham, a married man with two children, with sexual harassment but Canham appealed and was reinstated. Sukazi says her remaining time at the legislature was “hell” – colleagues believed his defence that she had been part of a plot to get him axed.

His dismissal and subsequent reinstatement made local headlines, with the legislature probing how information about it was leaked to the media.

Canham is now suing Sukazi for defamation, but she has gone to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in a bid to have his conduct and that of legislature speaker Nerusha Naidoo investigated.

In her letter of complaint, Sukazi told the HRC that she had brought the sexual harassment action against Canham after trying to get him to stop “asking for morning kisses, hugs and intimate massages when office doors are locked”.

Canham at first declined to comment but later told City Press he was the victim of a “cabal’’ in the legislature which “continues to this day to make attempts to defame me using the media and deny members of Nehawu opportunities to develop in terms of skills and other benefits”.

He said he and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) were “hard at work to ensure we root out evil elements in the workplace and no member of our staff can be subjected to this trauma ever again”, he said.

Naidoo declined to comment.

Sukazi said in her HRC submission that following a disciplinary process, Canham was found guilty as “he confessed to have done these advances to me” and he was fired.

But she said Naidoo invited him to appeal directly to her and she overruled the outcome of the disciplinary process and found him not guilty. He returned to work.

“I was presented as a person who made sexual temptation to the man,” Sukazi wrote, saying she believed Canham and Naidoo violated her rights.

HRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena said the organisation was assessing Sukazi’s complaint.

Meanwhile, her case has become a political football in a battle between rival unions, Nehawu and the breakaway Provincial and Allied Workers’ Union of SA (Pawusa).

Nehawu, to which Canham belongs, is demanding an investigation into Nhlanhla Mpondi, a Pawusa founder member who handled the case against Canham. Mpondi has been placed on special leave.

Pawusa has countered by calling for an investigation of the entire legislature management.

Sukazi’s fellow interns went to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) after the programme was closed and their contracts were not extended.

Spokesperson Wonder Hlongwa said the legislature respected Sukazi’s “right to take whatever grievance she had with the institution to any organisation” and the legislature would cooperate.

“We want to emphasise that under no circumstances will the KZN legislature condone acts of sexual harassment. In the same vein, the institution had the obligation to comply with internal procedures and policies, and based on those the appeal [Canham’s] was successful.”

This week City Press found Sukazi at her Esikhawini home. The University of Zululand graduate remains resolute about her decision.

“I know my career is over before it even started. I still have no regrets. I did what I did for myself and for other young women who are in the same situation.

“I could have kept quiet and advanced my career but if it happened again, I would have known that I allowed it by keeping quiet. Now I want justice.”

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