Allegations of sexual favours for residence placement rock CPUT

The Bellville campus student centre and parts of the administration building of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp, file)
The Bellville campus student centre and parts of the administration building of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp, file)

A number of current and former students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) have alleged that they were asked for sexual favours by some staff members in return for a residence placement.

Nkululeko Mangweni, who works in Parliament but used to be an SRC chair at the university, had asked women on social media to come forward with their stories in light of the recent focus on gender-based violence.

Mangweni said he received responses from at least 10 women, which he used to compile a report and sent to CPUT Vice-Chancellor Chris Nhlapo on Tuesday.

He believed there were many more who had suffered sexual harassment but were too afraid to come forward or had lost faith in receiving a positive outcome.

"What moved me most was seeing Facebook updates from former and current students. This is a not a new issue," he said, explaining his decision to spearhead the matter.

"During registration you have first years who are vulnerable and know nothing about Cape Town. They don't have a place to stay until the registration process is done."

READ | 'Horrific attacks on women reflect collective failure to respond to the cries of most vulnerable' - Cabinet

This vulnerability was abused by those in positions of power, including SRC members, he alleged.

Mangweni said he hoped CPUT would "take charge" of the issue before he felt compelled to report it to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Higher Education.

CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley told News24 on Tuesday the institution was aware of social media allegations made against current or former employees.

"These allegations however have not been made in the form of an official complaint which makes it problematic to investigate thoroughly," she said.

"We encourage anyone who has experienced any type of sexual harassment, historic or current, to assist us in properly investigating these complaints. Doing so may prevent similar incidents and allow us to root out this GBV scourge."

SRC president Sipho Mokoena told News24 that he was not aware of any cases against his team and could not speak for former SRC members.

"There are lots of allegations against staff members... particularly from the res department. We can't really act on allegations until the victims come forward to lodge their cases," he said.

Mokoena said they had created a platform where victims could come forward with their concerns anonymously.

He said it was true in some cases that students were wary to open cases because they had done so before without any results.

"They still see them in their offices and in their classes teaching us, even after cases were lodged."

The university's policies includes quid pro quo as a form of sexual harassment.

It is defined as when: "an employer, supervisor, member of management, academic staff member or co-employee, or student in a senior or leadership position undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increment or other benefit of an employee or job applicant, or a student’s academic progress or other benefits, in exchange for sexual favours or a sexual relationship".

The policy includes informal and formal procedures for dealing with these complaints as well as possible sanctions.

These could include warnings for minor instances of sexual harassment; dismissal for continued minor instances of sexual harassment after warnings, as well as for serious instances of sexual harassment; and in appropriate circumstances, transfer to another position in the workplace.

Kansley said Nhlapo made a number of commitments to address gender-based violence at an event on Monday.

These are: thorough vetting of staff during recruitment; a basic "green" or safe route through campuses; stronger access controls and CCTV cameras; more security patrols, lighting and a rapid response unit on campuses; better monitoring of number plates; after hours for the campus clinic and counselling departments; and a tribunal and ombudsman for GBV cases.

Mokoena welcomed the commitment for a tribunal and ombudsman, saying that a different process was needed to effectively deal with these cases.

Those who wanted to report an incident could contact the university's GBV number on 021-959-6550 or the student affairs department's dedicated cell on 060-980-0286.

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