Varsity rocked by sex claims

2013-08-20 00:00

A UNIVERSITY of KwaZulu-Natal senior lecturer who resigned ahead of a disciplinary hearing was rehired at the same institution a mere six months later, to the consternation of the women he allegedly targeted.

Jabulani Zikhali (48) former head of the Enriched Management Studies Programme, found another job at a different department, the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit.

One of his alleged victims, Kellie Steinke, wrote to The Witness on August 14, expressing concern that Zikhali had apparently managed to dodge disciplinary charges, to resurface at the university again this year.

The Witness investigated and gave the university until Friday, August 23, to respond.

Yesterday, UKZN announced that it had axed Zikhali on August 16.

But Zikhali, who spoke to The Witness yesterday, denied the sexual harrassment allegations against him.

He claimed he first heard of his alleged transgressions last Friday, when his contract was terminated with immediate effect by UKZN human resources head Dr Mojaki Mosia.

Mosia maintains Zikhali was informed in 2012 of the disciplinary hearing and that he resigned shortly thereafter, bringing proceedings against him to a halt.

Mosia added that Zikhali’s reappointment was illegal and would be probed further.

Zikhali was the subject of an investigation by Professor John Mubangizi, the deputy vice-chancellor and head of the College of Law and Management Studies, between August and October 2012. The probe was instituted after five women employed by the university, including Steinke, made several complaints of sexual harassment against him.

Steinke, who is based at the Pietermaritzburg campus and reported to Zikhali until his resignation in 2012, said she was “disgusted” to discover that the university had re-employed him despite the complaints.

“Prior to us knowing he was rehired, our union UKSU (the University of KwaZulu-Natal Staff Union), tried to find out what happened to the investigation. We were ignored by HR and at no point offered counselling. The type of abuse from Zikhali was varied. One of the complainants was told she must ‘put out’ or be fired. I was systematically bullied and humiliated to the extent that I have now resigned,” she said.

Steinke said other types of abuse against women included ridicule, alleged stalking and verbal sexual harassment.

Her allegations and account of proceedings was corroborated by a well-placed source within UKZN.

In her letter to The Witness, Steinke said:

• Staff were afraid to talk to each other about what was happening.

• It had taken over a year for the women to eventually realise they weren’t alone in the abuse they had suffered from Zikhali.

• With the support of UKSU, the case finally made its way to management.

• Staff were assured personally by the “top brass” that this person would not be allowed to abuse anyone else and would face disciplinary action.

• The case was then handed over to the HR department, from which point they heard nothing further.

When the complainants became aware of Zikhali’s re-employment, they said to each other via e-mail:

• “It’s UKZN that I am disgusted with. This is sick.”

• “I’m disgusted with UKZN that they can just hire him again after what happened.”

• “Can you believe it?”

• “How uncanny is that?”

• “I guess they think he’s ‘far away’ from his victims and previous department, so it’s ok.”

Zikhali said his leaving his former UKZN post after five years as its head was purely “coincidental”. At no point until last Friday did he realise he was the subject of an investigation.

“When I left EMS last year, I didn’t leave because of any allegations; I left for personal reasons.”

He said he received a call from the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit on Friday, saying they had received a call from HR to terminate his contract immediately.

The termination letter e-mailed to him “made no reference” to why he was dismissed.

“I spoke to Mosia telephonically and he said there were sexual-related accusations against me and that there had been an enquiry from the media [into the issue].

“I wanted to know who made the allegations and why I had not been informed at any earlier stage, but he wouldn’t tell me anything,” said Zikhali.

He maintains he was not rehired by the university, but had been “freelancing” for Maurice Webb since his departure from EMS.

“In January 2013 my contract with Maurice Webb expired and in April they renewed it. All of what is happening is coming to me as a complete surprise.”

Zihali said if it was true that the allegations had been known for a year, “then why have I never received anything in writing”.

“If these allegations cannot be substantiated, I will sue for defamation,” he said.

A letter had been sent to UKZN by his attorney, demanding within 48 hours the reasons for his dismissal and the identities of his accusers.

“If the claims are true, I don’t remember at all what I did. I don’t know how we define sexual harassment, but if it is what I think it is, then these allegations are false. No one ever said to me they don’t like what I am saying or doing to them,” said Zikhali.

Mosia said the university viewed “sexual harassment as a serious infringement on human rights”.

He said a complaint was made to the university’s Tip-offs Anonymous service in August 2012.

“The matter was dealt with swiftly, albeit under trying circumstances, as allegations were not supported by factual evidence. The employee accused of sexual harassment was approached and resigned before the disciplinary hearing was held.”

Zikhali had since been dismissed from UKZN due to his alleged non-disclosure.

Noting that Zikhali was given a short-term contract, Mosia said: “We wish to point out that this brief appointment did not follow the recruitment processes of the university. This matter is being dealt with through our legal processes and we are confident that appropriate action will be taken.”

He said the Tip-offs Anonymous service was managed independently by accounting firm Deloitte.

UKSU chairman Raymond Parkies said the union “has a position on the matter” but declined to clarify what it was.

“This is an internal matter and will be dealt with as such. We will comment when we are in a position to do so,” said Parkies.

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