Equal Education denies sexual abuse allegations linked to school children as programmes are halted

Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schafer. (Deon Raath, Netwerk24)
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schafer. (Deon Raath, Netwerk24)

Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer instructed Equal Education (EE) to stop operating in the province's schools by May 22, until her department holds a meeting with the organisation, reports GroundUp.

This follows allegations of sexual misconduct against former general secretary Tshepo Motsepe, former head of organising Luyolo Mazwembe, and former treasurer Doron Isaacs.

But, in an email to GroundUp, Equal Education said the organisation had not yet received a letter from Schäfer.

Although Schäfer suggested that some of the allegations might be from school children, the organisation said they were not true. None of the men accused of sexual harassment had any regular interaction with Western Cape school pupils.

READ: Equal Education rocked by three resignations amid sexual harassment accusations

"None of the allegations relate to school children. Once we receive a letter from the MEC, we will be in a position to consider her requests. We look forward to receiving it and will answer any questions posed to us in detail," said Equal Education.

In a statement on Monday, Schäfer said Equal Education worked in schools across the province, and while at least some of the allegations appeared to be from people within the organisation's staff, it was not clear whether any pupils were involved.

"If the allegations are correct, this is hardly the type of person we need working in our schools.

"I have therefore written to Equal Education requesting that they furnish me with the details regarding every interview or engagement conducted by Mr Motsepe, Mr Mazwembe or Mr Isaacs so far this year, with any female [pupil] in the Western Cape. I have requested the names of [pupils], the school that the [pupils] attend, the date of the interviews and who was present during the interviews. I require this information by this Friday, 25 May."

"I have also demanded an undertaking by 17:00 tomorrow, Tuesday, May 22, that they will cease operations in Western Cape schools until such time as we have had an opportunity to meet with them and discuss the way forward. Should we not receive such undertaking, we shall instruct our schools not to allow anybody from Equal Education, and who is not a [pupil] at the school, onto school premises," she said.

READ: Equal Education's Doron Isaacs resigns amid sexual harassment accusation

Schäfer also wanted to know whether Equal Education conducted background checks on staff and if so, whether Motsepe, Mazwembe and Isaacs passed the checks.

"Sexual abuse against young female [pupils] is prevalent in our communities, as raised by Equal Education on a number of occasions, and it is distressing that such allegations have been made against high-ranking members of their own organisation."

She has also requested that the chief director for districts immediately investigates what measures are taken by NGOs working in schools to vet their members, and put the necessary processes in place.

The organisation said, like the MEC, Equal Education takes sexual harassment seriously.

It said it had acted swiftly to address every allegation of misconduct that has been put before it. Equal Education has clear staff and volunteer policies and procedures that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, it said.

Its policies prohibit relationships between staff or volunteers and pupils. This offence leads to immediate dismissal. The organisation said it also has a clear sexual harassment policy and provides training on sexual harassment for members, volunteers and staff.

It said that this year it held a two-day staff seminar titled "Gender, Power, and Consent", which it initiated and created together with the Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education. It also had follow-up workshops on the drafting of staff values for a safe and welcoming workspace, and a review of its sexual harassment policy.

Equal Education said its youth facilitators were trained on sexual harassment and "informed on the severity of engaging in this misconduct".

"We remain resolute in our commitment to ensure that the actions of our members and staff reflect Equal Education's values of respect, equity and accountability."

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