I did not cover for Isaacs - Zackie Achmat on sexual harassment allegations

2018-05-18 15:50
Zackie Achmat (Gallo Images)

Zackie Achmat (Gallo Images)

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Prominent activist Zackie Achmat has publicly defended himself, saying that no survivor of sexual misconduct has ever approached him with allegations of sexual harassment involving Equal Education's co-founder Doron Isaacs.

Achmat was responding to a Mail & Guardian report, which stated that he covered Isaacs' tracks after he was accused of sexual harassment.

"It would be an act of violence against any complainant of sexual misconduct to suggest 'she asked for it'. Anyone who knows me will realise that this is something I would never do," Achmat said in a statement issued on Friday.  

He said he was aware of rumours relayed to him but added that no formal complaints were made.

The Mail & Guardian revealed on Friday that the allegations emerged from interviews with more than a dozen female Equal Education staff members, both current and former.

It said the members alleged an "institutional failure to address sexual harassment allegations, going back nearly a decade, and a concerted effort by the organisation to cover up the scandal".

Issacs could not be reached for comment.  

READ: UN received 54 allegations of sexual misconduct in 3 months

However, Achmat said: "I have always encouraged anyone with knowledge or allegations of harassment to file formal complaints and have at all times tried to ensure that the privacy of complainants is respected".

"I am mindful of why survivors of any form of sexual misconduct, harassment, or assault find it extremely difficult to make complaints or lay charges, especially to people in power and particularly men in power," he said.  

'Unravel' story for 'complexity'

He said leaders within the movement, particularly men, had a duty to ensure that "spaces are created for women to feel safe to speak about any unwelcome advance, uncomfortable flirtation and abuse of male power in society and the workplace".

"It has become clear that much more needs to be done about sexual misconduct and I accept full responsibility for not doing enough."

Nathan Geffen, who was mentioned in the article as part of an investigating team which cleared Isaacs' name, said the team conducted the investigation without anyone laying an official complaint.

"This exceeded what was required of due process. This is now shamefully painted by the M&G as an unfair process and a cover up by unnamed sources who likely were some of the people aggrieved by the findings of the investigation," Geffen said.

Also read: Primedia senior exec steps down following sexual misconduct allegations

"The members of the investigating committee acted with integrity. A problem with this kind of reporting by the M&G is that it dissuades people from sitting on committees that investigate sexual misconduct and moreover, dissuades the members of such committees from reaching fair conclusions based on available evidence."

Mail & Guardian editor Khadija Patel told News24 that, while she welcomed feedback from the parties, they would continue investigating the story and "unravel it for complexity".

"We state this as a matter of fact, that he (Geffen) was part of the [investigation] panel. We have sent him questions for a follow-up story.  

"I am quite perplexed to be honest...we are mindful of the need to protect people's reputations and to do responsible journalism when such serious allegations are being raised," she said.

Read more on:    equal education  |  zackie achmat  |  violence against women

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