On Wednesday, 13 March 2019, Gugu Ncube was arrested after a peaceful protest she held outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Gugu wore only her panties and a piece of cloth, while holding a placard addressed to President Ramaphosa, which read: “I was raped, sexually harassed […] I spoke out, they lied that I had resigned. #Produce my resignation! CCMA Commissioner took bribe from the perpetrator”.
Ncube chose this radical form of protest in an attempt to seek justice for alleged sexual harassment from a senior official from the University of South Africa (UNISA). According to Ncube, she was dismissed from her position at the Unisa Centre for Early Childhood Education (UCECE), after she reported the incident. She has also expressed concerns about the process in which her sexual harassment claim was addressed.
In a statement, UNISA dispels the allegations, stating that due process was followed and, “it was established that there was no basis to charge the staff members concerned with the alleged offences.”
In line with the Declaration issued by the Presidency at the GBV Summit held in November 2018 (which Sonke notes is yet to be signed), and its overarching theme of improving responses to gender-based violence (GBV), it is paramount to have clear and accountable mechanisms for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment.This includes transparent sexual harassment policies and a Code of Conduct that are accessible to the public to ensure efficacy. This applies to all spheres including government, private and public companies, civil society and learning institutions such as UNISA.
Sonke supports any form of peaceful protest and condemns what we consider the excessive use of force by the police when Ncube was arrested. Protests of this kind are not new to South Africa. In November 2018 Phindile Nkumah stood before President Ramaphosa and removed her clothes, exposing the reality of her physical scars of sexual abuse and illustrating that recovery is a lifelong struggle. While in 2016, female students at Rhodes University protested against sexual violence at the institution in order to highlight the rape culture pervading the university.
Sonke notes too, the unequal societal response to nudity and what is considered ‘indecent’ behavior between men and women. Similar levels of nudity were displayed during a recent cycling event aimed at raising awareness on environmental pollution. No arrests were made – instead this form of nudity was celebrated.
Sadly, Ncube’s experience highlights the tragedy of many survivors of GBV whose experiences are often all too similar. Her actions also demonstrate the extreme levels to which survivors must resort, to have their allegations taken seriously. Last year, a student from Rhodes University committed suicide. It is alleged that she took her life after allegations emerged that she had been raped.
By not taking each and every allegation of sexual violence seriously, we send a message that survivors are not to be believed and perpetuate a feeling of powerlessness and despair – fueling underreporting of GBV.
Sonke urgently calls for an independent review process to be conducted into Ncube’s allegations of sexual harassment at UNISA.
Kayan Leung, Legal and Litigation Manager, Sonke Gender Justice, firstname.lastname@example.org, 078 302 7887
Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane, Policy Development and Advocacy Fellow, Sonke Gender Justice, email@example.com, 076 164 8972
Bafana Khumalo, Senior Strategic Advisor, Sonke Gender Justice, firstname.lastname@example.org, 082 578 4479
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