A top official in the State Security Agency (SSA) is facing a range of sexual harassment allegations laid by a group of people in the agency calling themselves the Women of SSA.
The allegations reached the man’s bosses last Wednesday and have come to the attention of Inspector-General of Intelligence Setlhomamaru Dintwe, whose office told City Press last week that a preliminary investigation was under way.
The anonymous complainants painted the man, whose name is known to City Press, as a sex pest who called his woman colleagues offensive names, made inappropriate sexual comments, disrespected their private parts, and made jokes about their choice of underwear and sexual affairs.
The complainants said: “We realise that this continuous occurrence did not just occur to one woman, but to a number of women, who have consented to the writing of this letter. It is our suspicion that more vulnerable women might be in existence, but their exploitation remains unknown.”
State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba on Friday said that, “as an arbiter in the protection of rights of all employees where management action is inappropriate, I view any complaint of sexual harassment in a serious light”.
Letsatsi-Duba said she championed a workplace where members of the agency were free from sexual harassment and worked in an environment where members respected one another’s dignity, integrity and privacy.
She said the agency had an approved sexual harassment policy that dealt with all matters relating to the process of reporting and handling of complaints, including the protection of complainants.
“It is unfortunate that the complainant did not exhaust internal processes allowed for in the sexual harassment policy,” she said in reference to the complainants opting to approach Dintwe.
She said it was important to note that “the anonymous nature of this particular complaint makes it difficult to deal with and, in this instance, a similar process to the whistle-blower framework is being considered”.
“The department is mindful of the rules of natural justice, which dictates that the rights of all parties concerned should not be infringed,” Letsatsi-Duba said.
The Inspector-General’s office echoed Letsatsi-Duba’s sentiments, saying it would “do everything in our power to ensure that justice prevails”.
Dintwe’s spokesperson Jay Govender said the complaint had been “registered and a preliminary investigation into the allegations is under way”.
The accused declined to comment, referring City Press to the minister’s statements.
The complainants also asked Dintwe to make strict arrangements to ensure that their identities would not be compromised when they came forward to testify, saying they feared victimisation.
The complainants said that, due to the seniority of the accused, the women were frightened of suffering further abuse should they reveal their identities because the authority and capacity of his position was powerful, particularly in the intelligence sector.
“If that capacity is misused, it would lead to the defeat of this envisaged investigation and, ultimately, the sabotage to the quest for freedom by women in the workplace,” they said.
They added that the request for anonymity was made with an appreciation of the complexity it might cause for Dintwe to wholly investigate the matter without fear or prejudice of any parties.
“With this fear in mind and against all odds, women are prepared to meet the Inspector-General and share individual abuse experiences as long as the process is ascertained to be confidential throughout.”
They wanted an invitation to be placed on the SSA’s intranet “for women to individually communicate with the Inspector-General”.
Govender said such protection measures formed a part of the preliminary investigation phase: “As per the policy of the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence, every complaint is judged on its own merits.”
She would not disclose whether the Inspector-General already knew the complainants.
“With the case in hand, all necessary safeguards and controls will be put in place to ensure the highest degree of protection and confidentiality to persons who have approached this office.”
Govender said that, in the past, the Inspector-General had been sent complaints about sexual harassment and, as per legislative prescripts, all complaints were compiled into a report containing findings and recommendations.
“From a legislative point of view, the [Inspector-General] does not have a criminal investigation mandate. As a result, we are not mandated to make findings of innocence or guilt in a criminal sense.”
Instead, she said, “we often make findings and recommendations to the minister of the relevant intelligence service. These may include recommending disciplinary and/or criminal investigations to be instituted against the implicated party.”
She said Dintwe was aware of the existence of a sexual harassment directive in the SSA, but the office had not conducted a systematic analysis pertinent to its adequacy and effectiveness. This exercise will form part of the current investigation.
She said that “the regulatory framework of the SSA, as alluded to in the high-level review panel report on the SSA of December 2018, regards sexual harassment and a failure to take corrective action on becoming aware of sexual harassment and unfair discrimination as acts of misconduct subject to disciplinary procedures”.