BDS-SA clears director of 'unfounded' sexual harassment accusations

2019-05-29 13:33
BDS-SA co-founder and director Muhammed Desai (File, Netwerk24)

BDS-SA co-founder and director Muhammed Desai (File, Netwerk24)

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Boycott Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA) co-founder and director Muhammed Desai has been cleared of sexual harassment accusations, the NGO said in a statement on Tuesday.

BDS-SA appointed advocate Smanga Sethene from the Johannesburg Bar to investigate the allegations.

The board of BDS-SA was provided with the finding of the investigation over the weekend, which cleared Desai.

In a 35-page report, the investigation found that: "…there is no rational basis in law to take any disciplinary action against Mr Desai. The allegations against Mr Desai premised on all the statements of the complainants, their witness and Mr [Na'eem] Jeenah's interview cannot be sustained and are unfounded".

Jeenah is executive director at Afro-Middle East Centre (Amec).

The Daily Vox first reported that US academic Sang Hea Kil and two others had laid a charge against Desai on March 26. Sexual harassment allegations against Desai surfaced following a night out in Melville on March 21 when three women, including Kil, claimed he had sexually harassed them.

The complainants were reportedly in Johannesburg to attend a conference on the Palestinian territories and then stayed on for an Amec-hosted study tour of Johannesburg. It is during this period that they allege Desai sexually harassed them.

Demanded apology

In a meeting which was held with Amec media and publications coordinator, Mahlatse Mpya, Kil and her colleagues confronted Desai and demanded an apology from him, as well as for a commission of inquiry to be opened by April 1, City Press reported.

On April 3, BDS-SA's board reportedly released a statement saying that "an independent investigation into the allegations against Desai" would be initiated, beginning on April 15.

This, after BDS-SA was reportedly accused of dragging its feet in the matter in a statement on behalf of the Gauteng Palestine Solidarity Committee, Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee, UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum and the Muslim Students Association Union.

According to City Press, the statement was also endorsed by a group of 27 men and women in their personal capacity, including Fees Must Fall leader Shaeera Kalla, researcher Naadira Munshi, and activist Leigh-Ann Naidoo.

Dragging feet

According to BDS-SA, compiling the report was critical to its board and contributed to the delay in pursuing the matter.

"Following the investigation’s outcome, we have shared the outcome of the report with the complainants," BDS-SA said.

"The board has, throughout this process, reflected – and continues to reflect – on our internal process of consultation and ways of deepening our commitment to our values in the struggle to create a more just and humane world. This includes reflecting on our own conduct and inadequacies (in the workplace and beyond).

"We thank members of the public, our partner organisations and our supporters for providing us with the space to sensitively, thoroughly and fairly investigate this matter with full consideration for all moral and legal obligations," the statement read.

Attempts to reach Desai by phone were unsuccessful.

Read more on:    sexual harassment

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