I’m no sex pest, says Prof

2017-05-07 06:01


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In a concerted effort to clear his name, University of Venda vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mbati has instituted a R10m lawsuit against a colleague who accused him of sexual harassment.

The claim is a second court action that Mbati has launched in as many weeks to get the sexual harassment allegation off his back – six years after Professor Thidziambi Phendla, the former executive dean of the School of Education, officially filed the accusation with the university and the Commission for Gender Equality.

In papers filed at the Thohoyandou High Court, which City Press has seen, Mbati claims that Phendla made defamatory statements to the media that members of the public understood to mean that he was “a sex pest and a chauvinist” who regarded women as sex objects.

Mbati wrote that Phendla’s statements were understood to mean:

. He was a sex pest who preyed on employees at the University of Venda;

. He was corrupt and promoted people who gave him sexual favours to senior positions;

. He was a man of low morals who had sexual relationships with married female colleagues;

. He promoted Phendla to the position of executive dean because she either gave him sexual favours or he raped, molested or violated her;

. He cooked up charges of misconduct against Phendla because she was no longer willing to offer him sexual favours;

. He was an unprofessional executive manager who used his position, power and influence to solicit sexual favours from female employees; and

. He turned vicious and vindictive if someone refused him sexual favours.

Mbati claims that Phendla’s statements caused a rift in his family and that he had lost the respect of his wife and children.

He said he also suffered emotional pain, stress and depression.

“When making the aforesaid statements, the defendant [Phendla] was fully aware that they were untruthful and/or incorrect, and her sole intention was to defame, and/or injure and/or damage my [Mbati’s] reputation in the eyes of my colleagues, peers, academics, the University of Venda community, the international community and society at large,” reads Mbati’s summons to Phendla.

Phendla said she would defend the claim and countersue because Mbati allegedly said she was fired for fraud and corruption, which was not the case.

“I ended up without a job and missed out on 30 job opportunities. I am going to defend myself and counterclaim,” she insisted.

The standoff between the academics started while Phendla was undergoing a disciplinary process for tender irregularities. It was claimed that she accepted R1 000 to influence the awarding of a cleaning tender.

Phendla raised allegations that Mbati had been sexually harassing her before the disciplinary process was concluded.

She was found guilty and fired, but has appealed the decision in the Labour Court. The matter will be heard in July.

The university appointed a mediator, Lavery Modise, in 2011 to find an amicable solution between the two, but the process deadlocked.

Phendla reported the matter to the Commission for Gender Equality, which made scathing findings against Mbati. However, some of the findings had to be excised after a successful application by Mbati in the Johannesburg High Court on May 30 last year.

Despite excising a large part of the commission’s findings, the court instructed the university to invoke a formal inquiry in terms of its sexual harassment policy. The university then asked Modise to assess and compile a second report, which exonerated Mbati last year. However, Modise’s second report concluded that Mbati and Phendla had had a consensual sexual relationship.

Mbati is not pleased that the report says he admitted to the extramarital affair.

Modise is not opposing the application, but has provided the court with an explanatory affidavit, in which he claims that “it is noteworthy to state that [Mbati] improperly sought to influence me to amend my report”.

Phendla said her lawyers had advised her to oppose the application. A date for the application has not yet been set.

Read more on:    sexual harassment  |  university of venda

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