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‘Dirty laundry’ aired in court

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The alleged discriminatory remarks were taken out of context and were not meant in a discriminatory manner, where according to the records the other managers in attendance had laughed

Picture: Soraya Crowie

REMARKS about women’s green panties and pigs have landed Northern Cape Director-General Justice Bekebeke in hot water, where he is facing charges of making use of discriminatory and humiliating words as well as hate speech.

Former Northern Cape premier Sylvia Lucas has also been added to the charge sheet, for failure to hold Bekebeke “responsible for his words”, where a former employee in the Office of the Premier claims that Lucas neglected her duty to protect employees.

The matter is being heard in the Equality Court at the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court, before magistrate Oswald Kreiling.

The complainant, Edith Mocwaledi, who left the employment of the state in January, is claiming damages amounting to R10 000.

She told the court yesterday that the amount was not based on medical claims but rather on psychological trauma suffered, where her dignity, and those of women in general, had been violated.

“I did not seek medical treatment, I kept quiet and was depressed. The claim for damages will help me to feel that the matter was adequately dealt with,” Mocwaledi said.

The incident took place during a strategic session that was held at the Protea Hotel in October 17, 2017 – where Bekebeke was addressing managers regarding performance and work ethics.

He was describing staff who were committed and who went beyond their scope of duty as well as those who were only attending work to receive a salary.

Bekebeke apparently said that there were committed employees who performed, while there were also “a few workers who wake up in the morning, put on their green panties or green underpants” and whose only aim was to cause havoc and bully their fellow colleagues.

He had also spoken about not wanting to associate himself with “pigs and chaff”.

Mocwaledi stated that pigs were considered to be “dirty animals”.

“It is dehumanising to refer to staff members as pigs. Some people do not even eat pork. As an adult, a mother, grandmother and employee, it is sub-human to be told by the director-general about wearing big panties. I am a woman and I put on a panty. It is demeaning and hurtful for women to be addressed in that manner. The Premier’s Office is supposed to be the custodian of women’s rights. Women’s should be respected and not abused.”

Under cross-examination, Mocwaledi said that she refused to be belittled by either the director-general or his legal representative.

She acknowledged that both men and women were addressed during the meeting.

“We were all surprised and were quiet when the director-general uttered those words, you could hear a pin drop. I do not remember hearing anyone laughing at the venue.”

Mocwaledi, as a shop steward, took the matter up with the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and sought intervention from the premier, apparently without any success.

“It was not protocol to approach the director-general directly, as his office is terribly inaccessible. I approached labour relations in April 2018 and the Commission for Gender Equality when I realised that we were not getting anywhere following letters that were sent to the former premier. There were numerous attempts to solve the matter amicably.”

Mocwaledi added that she had not received any response from the former premier, other than a letter requesting that she be provided with a list of all the aggrieved women.

“During May 2018 the Commission for Gender Equality, advised the Office of the Premier to conduct an internal investigation into the matter and to provide a report on the outcome within 21 days. Still, there was no response and no report was ever compiled.”

Mocwaledi said that as a gender activist she was standing up for all women, “especially the voiceless”.

She was represented by Tsietsi Shuping from the Commission for Gender Equality.

The legal representative for Bekebeke and Lucas, Lulama Lobi, argued that the case intended to defame his clients and damage Bekebeke’s reputation.

He indicated that the alleged discriminatory remarks were taken out of context and were not meant in a discriminatory manner, where according to the records the other managers in attendance had laughed.

“They were general remarks that were not specifically directed at anyone in particular. Bekebeke will testify that he was speaking in his line of work … To encourage managers to aspire to a higher conduct.”