The Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) briefed the Committee on the Western Cape government's gender-based violence (GBV) policy and the progress with its implementation, and the DSD's GBV and sexual harassment policies.
The Committee was concerned about whether victims were offered counselling support following the conclusion of the reporting process if this was still required. Members wanted to know how Sexual Harassment Officers were appointed, what the criteria for their appointments were, and if this required a psychology background. They asked the Department to account for the sexual misconduct issue involving former MEC Albert Fritz, but were advised that the Office of the Premier was dealing with this.
Given the prevalence of GBV in the province, Members questioned whether there was sufficient funding for victim empowerment. Members asked the Department about the ideal working environment to curb and establish an anti-harassment culture and how this would be implemented. Members wanted to know the exact process to be followed when reporting an incident of sexual harassment and were told that there were formal and informal processes to be followed based on the victim's preference after an incident of sexual harassment was reported. The complainant would also be asked what they wanted to achieve from taking a formal or informal route. Often, they would simply want an apology or want the perpetrator to be aware of what they had done but not to have a disciplinary hearing.
The Department assured the Committee that they exercised caution to maintain confidentiality, and victims were treated with dignity and sensitivity. Dealing with such cases was not a punitive process and records were kept, but these could not be held against anyone. The process merely served to provide awareness to the perpetrator. Posters raised awareness of the reporting process for sexual harassment in lifts and offices. Details of the Sexual Harassment Officers were also given to staff.
The formal process of reporting sexual harassment required the victim to decide to do this. If an investigation found that a perpetrator could be charged, this was done and an independent chairperson was chosen to chair the disciplinary committee. If found guilty, mitigating or aggravating circumstances could be submitted. Based on consideration of specific criteria such as the nature and extent of the misconduct, the perpetrator's history, surrounding circumstances, and any other relevant information, the chairperson would make a decision. Perpetrators may face sanctions ranging from counselling, dismissal, demotion or suspension for three months without pay, a written warning or a final written warning.
Members were concerned about how the sexual harassment policy addressed powerful managers in provincial government that were facing charges of GBV and sexual harassment who remained in their jobs despite the court cases against them. They cautioned that the transversal policy relied on was outdated, based on the increasing rates of GBV and the commitments government had made. They were concerned that the processes to resolve GBV matters and harassment in the workplace mainly involved the Department. They asked how political principals would be involved in cases like that of former MEC Fritz.
Members highlighted that harassment presented itself in various forms and included unwanted behaviour such as physical and psychological harassment. Bullying in the workplace was also an issue. They suggested a mechanism or a procedure for frequent consultation with the staff -- for example, using a survey to indicate whether such practices were taking place without someone loudly blowing a whistle or speaking out, thereby ensuring confidentiality.
Other issues raised included how victims often felt the criminal justice system had failed them, the challenges in obtaining convictions, the level of engagement between the Department and the South African Police Service, and the vacancies available for social workers. Members also asked about human trafficking and exploitation and wanted specific statistics on unsolved human trafficking cases, particularly in the Western Cape.
The Chairperson noted that Members wanted a briefing and statistics on sexual harassment cases in the DSD and a separate meeting on the matter relating to former MEC Fritz and asked the Committee to allow him time to follow up on the matter with the Office of the Premier.
DSD on sexual harassment policies
Dr Robert Macdonald, Head of Department (HOD), Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD), briefed the Committee on the Department’s sexual harassment policies.
The WCG's policy on sexual harassment is a transversal policy and was adopted on 20 May 2011 by it, as the employer, and trade unions. The DSD used processes set out in this policy when dealing with incidents of sexual harassment that have been brought to its attention.
(See presentation for details)
Mr R Mackenzie (DA) asked if the policy was transversal across departments and whether it was also applicable to suppliers and others who were subcontracted. How were they legally bound? Did this policy cover the power dynamics between a junior manager and a senior manager? What was the level of the Harassment Manager in the office, and what sort of training did the Harassment Manager get? Referring to the informal processes that were followed, the presentation had indicated that the victim and perpetrator were called into a room -- what counselling services were provided after this process if, for example, the victim was still unhappy and aggrieved?
The DSD responded that the policy was transversal and applied across all departments. The policy applied to certain service providers who were then bound by the policy. In terms of power dynamics, the policy did speak to quid pro quo forms of sexual harassment, which would entail a power dynamic and someone in a senior position trying to solicit sexual favours in return for some benefit to the victim. These types of harassment were dealt with when required. The Chief Director present was one of the harassment officers, and this was not only about the level but also the requisite skills and experience the person had. It was important to remember that when victims presented themselves, what mattered was the skill of the person and their capacity to guide and make the victim feel at ease throughout the process. She assured the Committee that a myriad of factors was considered when appointing a Harassment Officer. Counselling was not a once-off thing, and counselling provided to the victim did not end when the formal process was finalised. This also depended on what the victim needed. Provision was also made in the policy for the perpetrator to go for counselling. Victims were often also abused, and a holistic approach was taken beyond just following processes to create a safe working environment.
Mr Mackenzie asked a follow-up question about the internal reporting process.
The DSD responded that the contact details of Harassment Officers were shared with staff. Alternatively, the victim could contact their supervisor or the Head of Department.
Mr G Brinkhuis (Al Jama-ah) asked when the Sexual Harassment Officers were appointed and the criteria for their appointment. What kinds of qualifications were considered for these appointments?
A representative of the Department said existing staff members were appointed. Sometimes district offices were far-flung, and it was best to appoint people in each office. Someone was appointed to assist facilities' staff as well. Staff had also been outsourced from the Department of the Premier (DotP) for a service provider to provide updates and training. There were no specific qualifications required, but only some level of competency.
Mr Brinkhuis said sexual harassment was a sensitive case and asked what type of background the Sexual Harassment Officer needed to have in terms of a psychology background.
The Department responded that the Sexual Harassment Officer dealt only with the reporting side. The appointment also revolved around the level of maturity of the person. However, seniority could pose a barrier to those wishing to report issues.
Ms Marion Johnson, Chief Director: Business Planning and Strategy, was asked to share her qualifications with the Committee. She said she held a Master's degree in Public Health, a Master's degree in Public Administration, and an Honours degree in Psychology.
She pointed out that most of the Sexual Harassment Officers were all qualified social workers, and many of the social workers had higher degree qualifications.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) said it was wonderful to hear about the qualifications held in the Department, but that it was a pity that such bad things were happening. She asked the Department to account for the sexual misconduct of former MEC, Mr Albert Fritz, as many of these issues had occurred during his time in the Department. When would a meeting take place to provide these explanations?
She referred to slide 2 of the presentation. Given the prevalence of GBV in the province, was there sufficient funding for victim empowerment? What did the GBV plan say about increasing funding for GBV? A lot of the reported figures were pre-2020. She asked about reporting stations in the Western Cape and the eight GBV hotspots.
The Department said it could not answer when it would account to the Committee on the sexual allegations regarding former MEC Fritz but that it would be available when requested by the Committee. The Department had to make budget cuts for the current financial year, but GBV was not affected by this, given its importance. Each department had an implementation plan and its own budget for this.
Ms W Philander (DA) said the Department had gone to great lengths to address the GBV matters. The Department should always alert themselves to the different issues within the scope of what was being addressed. Although the DSD assigned budgets and put various measures to curb such inappropriate conduct, what would be the ideal working environment to curb and establish an anti-harassment working environment? How would this be possible, and how would it be implemented in the Department?
At present, Dr Macdonald and the Department led a GBV transversal workstream meeting once a month, and at this meeting, all 13 government departments were involved and each had a GBV champion. The forum members formed a GBV steering committee that had finalised the GBV implementation plan, which had come down from national government. A series of quarterly webinars, called 'Courageous Conversations', were held, which also reported on GBV responsive budgeting and had representatives from the South African Police Service (SAPS).
GBV was not being considered in isolation but was being looked at holistically, so there were no gaps in the system. Pamphlets were displayed all over, and it was important to understand that harassment was not always visible and could be overt. There should be a level of trust within a team at work, and the Department was trying its best to create this culture. A lot of the work was managed in the Office of the Premier and was then referred to the Corporate Service Centre (CSC), which would take the matter further. A safe space was created where people felt that there was trust, and this was being driven together with the departments' culture journey change.
Dr Macdonald said to create an anti-harassment environment was an ongoing process of maintaining a culture, and the message constantly needed to be driven home. Messaging was there with awareness campaigns so that perpetrators were also aware of the consequences. The Department was looking at increasing awareness amongst new recruits and interns on their rights regarding sexual harassment. The Premier had also undertaken to improve the sexual harassment and reporting policies so that everyone was aware of how unacceptable this was.
Mr Brinkhuis asked for more detail on how the process unfolded when a complainant came forward with such allegations. Was this a fact-finding process or a counselling process for the complainant and aggressor?
Ms Johnson said it was not a fact-finding process for investigation. When a complainant made contact, a meeting was arranged to find out what took place from the complainant's perspective.
Mr Brinkhuis said there was conflicting information being given. There were two processes that worked together.
Ms Johnson said fact-finding was not an investigation process. They wanted to create an environment where people felt they could come forward. Sexual harassment was how the complainant perceived it, but a perpetrator may not think they were doing anything wrong, although the victim viewed this differently. The Sexual Harassment Officer would take down the complainant’s viewpoint and ask whether the complainant would like to take a formal or informal route to resolve the matter. The formal route would lead to a disciplinary hearing and the Sexual Harassment Officer would hand the matter over to the Employee Relations Department. The informal route would mean that the complainant did not want to get the perpetrator into trouble but was also of the view that the behaviour displayed was inappropriate, although it did not need to go toward a disciplinary route. There was an option to meet the perpetrator and explain why their behavior was inappropriate. The complainant was also asked about what they wanted to achieve from taking this route, and often they simply wanted an apology or wanted the perpetrator to be aware of what they had done. There was an option for the complainant to be present or not. Theoretically, this was not a punitive process and records were kept but could not be held against anyone. This process served to provide awareness to the perpetrator as well.
A DSD official said the formal process involved the victim deciding which route to follow. A judgment call could also be made by the Harassment Officer based on how egregious the matter was. This would entail engagement with witnesses and the complainant. Video footage, emails or text messages would also be collected if relevant, and this information would then be analysed before a report was drafted. If an investigation found that a perpetrator could be charged, this would be done and an independent chairperson would be chosen to chair the disciplinary committee. The alleged perpetrator could also be represented and could call their own witnesses. The chairperson could then decide on whether the person was guilty or not. If found guilty, mitigating or aggravating circumstances could be submitted. Based on consideration of specific criteria such as the nature and extent of the misconduct, the perpetrator's history, surrounding circumstances, and any other relevant information, the chairperson would make a decision. The chairperson could then issue a sanction which could range from counselling, dismissal, demotion, suspension for three months without pay, a written warning or a final written warning.
Ms Windvogel asked how many sexual harassment cases had been reported in the Department over the past year. How many people were charged and fired by the DSD? How did the plan address powerful managers in the provincial government who were facing charges of GBV and sexual harassment who remained in their jobs despite the court cases against them?
Dr Macdonald said the Department of Health (DoH) had a system that provided live information on GBV and other violent crimes. This information was gathered from the trauma wards in the health system, and in this way, hotspots could be tracked. The Department of Health was a custodian of this information, which could be requested from it. He was not aware of any sexual harassment cases in the Department in the past year, but the average was about one case per year. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and remote working, there had been a drop in cases.
On managers who remained in their jobs, it depended on the nature of the situation, where someone was charged criminally. The matter had to be dealt with on its merits, such as severity of the charges and potential harm the person may cause in the workplace. However, if someone faced serious charges, they would be suspended. Employers would be civilly liable for not taking action against those who harass in the workplace. Such cases had taken place and victims had successfully sued.
Mr M Kama (ANC) said the transversal policy relied on was outdated, based on the increasing rate of GBV and the commitments the government had made. The processes to resolve matters on GBV and harassment in the workplace mainly involved the Department, and he asked how political principals would be involved, such as with the case of former MEC Fritz? He was concerned about the training of Sexual Harassment Officers, the last of which took place in 2019. He asked what training the officers went through and if a Sexual Harassment Officer was allowed to make a judgment call on whether or not a formal process must be followed when a case was presented, as this meant they would have needed to receive specific training.
Dr Macdonald said a review of the policy was currently underway. On the policy relating to political principle, its scope included office bearers.
A Department official said training of Sexual Harassment Officers was related to how to deal with a victim and what was contained in the Sexual Harassment policy, and their obligations when dealing with victims and perpetrators. The training also allowed the officer to understand sexual harassment, as it was such a complicated area. For example, one may not think it would be sexual harassment if someone in a senior position said a colleague needed to sleep with them to get a job. This may be seen as consensual, but it still amounted to sexual harassment. There had been complainants across the board, where employees had taken employers to court and had received substantial sums of money in compensation.
Ms Philander said harassment presented itself in various forms, and it spoke to unwanted behaviour, and could also be physical and psychological harassment. Bullying in the workplace was also an issue. Was there a mechanism or a procedure for frequent consultation with the working corps, for example, using a survey to indicate whether such practices took place without someone loudly blowing a whistle or speaking out?
Ms Johnson said that one of the regional officers held monthly engagements and GBV social workers were involved.
Mr Mackenzie asked if there was an increase in awareness campaigns aimed at GBV, sexual harassment and bullying.
Ms Johnson said she thought the incident in question had been a cause for concern, but she was also aware that the Department of the Premier had launched a GBV campaign.
Ms Windvogel asked if the HOD was not aware of cases involving managers.
Dr Macdonald said he was not aware of managers with cases against them. He said sometimes a child was assaulted by a staff member, and in this case, suspension would follow.
Mr Brinkhuis asked for the records of previous cases concluded and if these could be shown to the Committee.
Dr Macdonald said the cases had been recorded, but legal advice needed to be sought as it was confidential, and complainants were aware that this could compromise them, which may deter people from coming forward.
A Department official said one of the principles underlying the policy was the maintenance of confidentiality. The policy went to the extent of indicating who could be present at a disciplinary hearing to protect the complainant.
Mr Brinkhuis said he was aware of this, but sometimes there was politics within different departments. He asked if the Department thought such cases should be brought to the attention of the Committee.
Dr Macdonald said in the case of sexual harassment incidents in the Department involving officials; this information would be provided, as there was also public interest. Information was provided on dismissals, but the Department did not disclose the complainant's identity to prevent secondary victimisation.
Implementation of GBV NSP
The Department briefed the Committee on the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on gender-based violence (GBV)
The Western Cape Government (WCG) GBV Implementation Plan presents the WCG response to GBV and outlines departments' key interventions for the 2021/22 financial year and ongoing interventions.
Interventions aim to mitigate GBV and strengthen the WCG's existing GBV responses within its socio-economic, cultural and political landscape. These key interventions have been aligned to the six pillars of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF)
-28 685 sexual assault cases were reported by males and females at public health facilities in the Western Cape between April 2015 and March 2019
-Crimes against women reported nationally in 2019/20: common assault
(83 202), assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm (50 859) and sexual offences (31 100)
-53 293 sexual assault cases against men and women between April 2019 and March 2020
The plan will be reviewed in a year to determine whether any aspects should be adjusted/updated
(See presentation for details)
Mr Mackenzie said this was a topical issue and that he usually posted on social media about this. He had received three responses to his WhatsApp status and read out one of the responses, which stated: “I hope something comes from this, as a victim of GBV.” This person had also indicated that the justice system had failed victims, as she was still involved in an ongoing case. Mr Mackenzie had asked for the case number. The victim had indicated that a man had broken her arm and front teeth and that she was not the man's only victim. She had had to get a metal plate in her arm and her case was continually postponed for further investigation.
He asked about prosecutions and the 28 000 sexual assault cases by males and females. There were also more than 34 000 contact crimes and a 7% increase in sexual assault cases. What were the convictions, and what was the problem with achieving these convictions? What was the engagement like between the Department and SAPS? How could the Department fix this? He wanted to know what exactly defined sexual assault cases -- did it include children at school? Did the statistics inform how the Department would do its next resource planning?
Dr Macdonald said the DSD and the SAPS had their own NSP implementation plan. Police stations were being looked at to see whether victim support rooms were being used correctly and where things went wrong with GBV cases. SAPS would be better placed to answer this question, but the Department played a role in the readiness of victims and assisting them in giving evidence in court matters.
Ms Renee Botha, Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) Manager, said that when victims interacted with the criminal justice system, the Department assisted in helping them apply for a protection order and then journey the process with the victim, which helped quite a lot. Women would apply for a protection order and withdraw it under pressure. When a victim was linked with a court official, it gave them courage. The Department also constantly engaged with the SAPS, the Department of Justice and the Department of Community Safety to look at creating safe spaces for women to address secondary victimisation by sensitising officials who work with these women to understand the trauma the victims were experiencing. The Department ensured that women knew they had access to therapeutic, psychosocial and practical support.
Ms Sharna Fernandez, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Social Development, said that the Department had partnered with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the Athlone area. The Athlone managerial district was chosen because it had the highest number of female offenders going through its court. There was also a referral pathway for magistrates. There were 11 area-based teams in the metro, and eight had hotspots. She said the disconnect was not to think in silos.
Dr Macdonald said the GBV and murder hotspots were the same. Sexual assault was defined in legislation, such as attempted rape. This would be a particular kind of charge that excluded rape.
Mr Kama said women in the province did not have hope that GBV was being dealt with. He asked who the custodians of this plan were to ensure its implementation and whether it formed part of any targets. The reference to economic empowerment was problematic because the presentation was well made, but he wanted clarity on plans to ensure that women had access to resources that would ensure they made healthy choices in their lives. He referred to two Western Cape government employees who were still at work while their court cases were being postponed. It seemed as if these issues were not being dealt with. He also wanted to know what the economic empowerment measures for women entailed.
Dr Macdonald said the custodians of the NSP for the province were the provincial Cabinet, and the custodians of the SAPS implementation plan would be national government. The provincial Cabinet reviewed and monitored the plan, and it was monitored through the wellbeing and dignity priority area, which ultimately reported to Minister Fernandez.
Mr Kama made a follow-up comment and said the DSD should have taken the initiative to ensure the victims of the cases he had referred to were assisted.
Dr Macdonald said he could not speak for the cases in other departments and if requested, the DSD could offer support. It could not get involved in the labour relations matters of other departments.
Mr Brinkhuis asked about human trafficking and exploitation and wanted specific statistics on unsolved human trafficking cases, particularly in the Western Cape. He asked the Department if there was a formal process to be followed as soon as a child or minor was reported missing, especially where human trafficking was a reality.
Ms Botha said the Department was guided by the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013. Reporting referred to Sections 18 and 19, and if human trafficking was suspected, SAPS must be informed to investigate. A provincial human trafficking task team was chaired by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). There was a standard operating procedure. A social worker would do an assessment (called a Form 3) for the Department. There were safe spaces or shelters for human trafficking victims. The victim was then placed there, and time was given as trauma played out differently. The HOD of the Department then signed off a letter of recognition to recognise that the person was a victim of human trafficking. When it came to children, the Department relied very strongly on the Children’s Act, as the child was seen as the one in need of care and protection.
In Section 110, this aspect was dealt with and either a child needed to be removed or there should be a thorough investigation, as this usually involved a criminal ring. The child was placed in an anonymous place and under a different name. Short term and long term interventions were either reunification or rehabilitation programmes and trauma support. The criminal justice system dealt with criminal matters, and Community Safety may track the progress, but the DSD was mainly focused on victim support.
Minister Fernandez said the Department would follow up on what Mr Mackenzie had raised.
Ms Windvogel asked about what type of assistance was offered to victims, given the issues discussed by other Members and the Theewaterskloof issue. She thought the Department was moving in the right direction, but that political will was needed. She shared Mr Mackenzie’s sentiments on the treatment of victims. She asked how many GBV social workers there were in the province and whether this number would be increased. Were there any vacancies for such social workers?
Dr Macdonald said depending on the circumstances, trauma counselling services and long-term counselling was offered. Alternative accommodation could also be made available. The ability of the Department to assist was dependent on referrals made to it. It could pick up cases itself but did not always hear of them first. The employee wellness program was another resource available.
He was unsure whether the Theewaterskloof victim had been referred to the Department or whether the victim required support. There were about 30 GBV social workers who were funded to focus on GBV, but other social workers also focused on this. There were also NGOs that were funded by the Department that worked within the Thuthuzela Care Centres at certain hospitals. Vacancies of social workers needed to be confirmed.
Minister Fernandez said she agreed with Mr Mackenzie that there were people out there without technology to assist them, and GBV and poverty affected everyone. Ward committees should have a GBV representative on them. The DSD should educate its staff so that they could be ambassadors for services available for GBV victims, given that this was a scourge and was the second pandemic in South Africa. She said the Department relied on government and civil society to support it.
Mr Brinkhuis asked about a full report being sent to the Committee.
Dr Macdonald said the NSP had been submitted to Parliament but could be sent to the Committee.
Ms Windvogel asked if officials were based at the office, or if they were working from home. She wrote to the Minister about a woman from Swellendam who her son, a drug addict, had almost stabbed. She attempted to get her child admitted to a rehabilitation centre, and the Minister's personal assistant had responded only yesterday.
Minister Fernandez said the Head of the Ministry was at the office every day, and the staff came in only three days a week on a rotation basis. She would follow up with her assistant, as the email may have been sent to the wrong address. She would share her personal details with Ms Windvogel.
The Chairperson thanked all present in the meeting and allowed the Departmental staff to leave the meeting.
He confirmed that Mr Brinkhuis wanted a briefing and statistics on sexual harassment cases in the Department and a separate meeting on the matter relating to former MEC Fritz. However, the Premier's Office was dealing with the matter and not the Department.
Ms Windvogel clarified that she wanted former MEC Fritz to account to the Committee.
The Chairperson said there were legalities involved that could jeopardise the issue.
Mr Kama said the Committee had resolved that the HOD would appear before it.
Ms Philander said she could not recall that the Committee had taken any resolutions. Calling the HOD to the Committee may have adverse effects for the exact same reason that the full report could not be disclosed to the Committee.
The Chairperson said he would engage the Premier's Office on the matter and revert to the Committee.
Ms Windvogel said it seemed like something was being hidden.
The Chairperson said Members should carefully consider the responses given to the Committee. He asked to be given time to consult with the Premier's Office.
Adoption of minutes
The draft minutes of 1 and 17 March 2022 were adopted without amendment.
The meeting was adjourned.
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