Wits sexual harassment claims probed

Johannesburg - A legal firm has been appointed to probe claims of sexual harassment at the University of Witwatersrand, Vice-Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa said on Monday.

"We have engaged a firm of attorneys to receive complaints from anybody in the university who feel that they have been harassed - sexually and otherwise," he told reporters in Johannesburg.

"That firm is interviewing people and therefore will advise the university whether there are grounds to proceed with whatever action against any of the people that have been brought to their attention."

Nongxa said the attorneys were collecting the relevant evidence that would be needed if further action had to be taken.

The firm would advise university management on the appropriate steps to take by the end of next week.

Wits Registrar Kirti Menon said it was important to provide a safe space for people to talk about sexual harassment.

"We have [new] complaints that have come in that are being investigated."

A two-person team was examining the university's policies on sexual harassment and would advise it by the end of August if reviews or updates were needed.

On 7 March, Wits announced it was undertaking a campus-wide probe into sexual harassment and into claims of sexual harassment against a lecturer.

At the time, acting rector Prof Tawana Kupe said the campus investigation would be completed in August, and that it was being led by Centre for Applied Legal Studies head Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, and Joe Mathibe from an external law firm.

The objective was to come up with recommendations on ways to prevent and address future occurrences of sexual harassment.

The investigation into a member of staff accused of sexual harassment was continuing. The lecturer was currently on special leave.

On 5 March, Wits said it had ended a lecturer's contract after past accusations of sexual harassment, which he had failed to disclose, came to light.

Monday's news briefing also touched on the reported multi-million-rand refurbishment of the vice-chancellor and principal's official residence.

If the university obtained ownership of the house, which belonged to the Price family trust, it would spend R9m to renovate the property, The Star reported.

Vice-Chancellor and principal designate Adam Habib said the house was older than 110 years and a heritage site.

The university was obligated in terms of the law to renovate and maintain it.

Wits obtained the Parktown heritage property from the family over 40 years ago on condition the vice-chancellor stayed there.

Kupe said the university was negotiating with the family.

"If we are willing to renovate the house then they are willing to sign it over to us. The signature is imminent.

"We are not paying the Price family a single rand for the house. We will not buy the house," Kupe said.

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