Mashatile ‘shields’ spin doctor from sexual harassment scandal

Deputy President Paul Mashatile and his chief of staff Mduduzi Mbada have been accused of tiptoeing around a sexual harassment complaint against his spokesperson, Vukani Mde, for months.

This comes after a senior female staffer in the office, reporting directly to Mde, last August complained about unwarranted sexual advances that Mashatile’s spin doctor made towards her.

Since August last year, Mashatile and Mbada are believed to have failed to act on Mde until an independent investigator was appointed towards the end of last year.

Sunday World has learned from insiders that the complainant made a detailed submission and met the independent investigator, while Mde refused to be interviewed by the investigator with one excuse after another.

On December 7, the investigator submitted a report that found prima facie evidence of sexual harassment and recommended that Mde be immediately subjected to a disciplinary hearing. But to date, that has not happened, resulting in Mde’s political principals being accused by staff of delaying and playing political games.

An informant close to the developments believes the whole saga is an indictment on Mashatile and Mbada, who they believe are protecting Mde at the expense of the victim.

“The matter is treated hush hush, but they seem to be protecting Vukani (Mde) by all means, while the victim suffers in silence because she is scared of these powerful men as they play political games with her wellbeing and livelihood,” said the insider, who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media.

“She still has to work with the same people, including the perpetrator, and no one is doing anything about creating a conducive working environment for the victim, who has to work to feed her family.”

The investigator had reached the determination that the matter was one of misconduct. “The public service as a workplace is obligated to provide a safe, healthy and amicable working environment and shall take steps to maintain this, either by meeting legal obligations or in terms of what amounts to fair practice.

“Therefore, it shall neither permit nor condone sexual harassment,” wrote the investigator in their December 7, 2023 report, which we have seen. “Therefore, I recommend that the matter be closed as a grievance and be dealt with as misconduct, and charges of sexual harassment be proffered against Mr Mde as he failed to submit a proper report dispelling that he did not act in the manner alleged by the complainant.”

The investigator further said a disciplinary inquiry against Mde must be conducted under strict conditions that protect the victim. In this regard, the investigator’s report continues, the matter must be dealt with timeously, as stipulated in the code of conduct in public service.

“The employer must respect the rights of the people who have been sexually harassed and must handle the cases with sensitivity and confidentiality.”

“The employer must protect victims against victimisation and/or retaliation for lodging grievances.

“The employer must protect the integrity of this process, and it is not advisable for the victim to be still reporting directly to Mr Mde until the case is finalised. The employer must make a determination either to precautionary transfer Mr Mde.”

The alleged sexual harassment incidents took place between April and July last year, where Mde is alleged to have sent the victim “messages that are sexual in nature to her work cellphone number”. Further, Mde is accused of verbally passing comments that are unwelcome to the victim, “about her sex life and her looks”.

As if that was not enough, he went on to make love proposals to the victim while communicating work instructions, despite being told that the lady was not interested in a romantic relationship with him.

When all advances failed with the victim refusing to give in, Mde is alleged to have “abused his power” and set out to make her work experience unbearable. The offence included closing her out on planned work activities and “redistributing her responsibilities to
other colleagues”.

Those sympathetic to Mde inside the office of the deputy president defended him, saying the victim was bitter because the two have a historical romantic relationship. “The two were dating four years before Vukani (Mde) arrived at the Presidency to find the victim working there.

“He is the one who ended their relationship because she was too much for him,” said the well-placed deepthroat. “Now, when he arrived at the Presidency, she started behaving in a manner that was unbecoming, trying to reignite their romantic relationship and dragging the man to her beefs with other colleagues.

“And when Vukani was not entertaining her, she started accusing him of all the things that have led to the mess we have before us.”

Mashatile, his chief of staff and presidency administration boss Phindile Baleni did not respond to questions at the time of going to print. This despite Mashatile’s PA acknowledging receipt of our questions.

Mde also elected not to comment, saying the matter was “internal”.

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