Legislature man in sex row

2013-08-27 00:00

THE future of an experienced senior provincial government communications officer, who has been found guilty of sexual harassment, hangs in the balance.

Wesley Canham (40) was found guilty by a disciplinary hearing held at the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature earlier this month.

Canham, through his union — the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) — believes that the accusations have been cooked up to get him fired.

He had been suspended from his post in May after the allegation was lodged with the institution. He is still on suspension as he appeals the decision.

According to a disciplinary hearing report seen by The Witness, there were allegations of unwanted sexual advances, moonlighting, bizarre rules (including hugging and kissing), locked doors and a conspiracy theory to oust Canham.

Zola Saphetha, Nehawu provincial secretary, said Canham is appealing the decision and he believes there is an agenda behind the sexual harassment charge.

“As a matter of principle, we condemn sexual harassment in any workplace. However, we have evidence that suggests that senior managers within the legislature have had an interest in driving this allegation to finality and through their actions, they are in contravention of the Labour Relations Act,” said Sepetswa.

The findings, handed down on August 7 by the committee’s presiding officer Fana Myeza, said the conduct of the employee “constitutes sexual harassment as defined in the institution’s policy on sexual harassment”.

“I find him guilty of gross misconduct/sexual harassment as charged,” said Myeza.

The disciplinary hearings were held between June 3 and July 16. Canham faced a charge of gross misconduct for repeated sexual harassment in the first quarter of this year against a junior female employee whose name is known to The Witness.

Among the many accusations made by the female victim, she said:

• his rules in the office required her to hug and kiss him when coming in and leaving the office, as a sign of appreciation of the experience the employment was going to impart upon her;

• he kissed her with an open mouth, touched her on the back and massaged her;

• he held her tight against him; and

• he locked the door when they were in the office together and when he tried to kiss her, she would shout “come in”, pretending someone was at the door.

Her complaint was eventually made to the senior manager for communications at the legislature, Leon Mbangwa.

She also claimed Canham would arrive early and leave late to attend to his private business, leaving her with his work load.

But Canham, who has been working for the legislature since 2011, told the committee that he and the complainant had a “consensual deep kiss” only once and had flirted. He said that she told him she missed him when he was out of the office, and at no point did she say she was uncomfortable with hugging or touching nor did he make employment unbearable for the victim.

KZN Legislature spokesperson Wonder Hlongwa said: “Management is still applying their minds on to what course of action should be taken against Mr Canham. He, however, does have a right to appeal the findings until all processes have been exhausted.”

He confirmed Canham was still on suspension, but could not comment further as the matter was sub judice.

Canham told The Witness he would not comment on the matter at all and referred all queries to Nehawu.

Sepetswa said it would not comment on the allegation on whether Canham was running a business, as it was not part of the charge.

Canham has worked in the communications field for the Department of Health at Addington Hospital and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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