Adriaan Basson: The #MeToo revolution we need in boardrooms, newsrooms and classrooms
The first reaction from many people to the Willem Breytenbach revelations and to other sexual predators who have not yet been exposed, is, "we always suspected something, but we didn't know it was this bad", writes Adriaan Basson.
The CEO who books a hotel room with a walk-through door between him and the pretty intern.
The news editor who demands sexual favours in return for jobs.
The teacher who smuggles alcohol to teenagers on school camps and then joins them in their tents.
Monday is the start of 16 Days of Activism and my dream for this year's period is less talk shops and more action.
The past week was one of intense reporting and reflection in the News24 newsroom following the revelation that Willem Breytenbach, a former mentor, boss and colleague, was a sexual predator since his days as a teacher in the early 1990s.
The tremors after the launch of Deon Wiggett's podcast My Only Story on News24 almost three weeks ago are still being felt across South Africa. This is truly a #MeToo moment for the media, corporate South Africa and hopefully, our schools.
Other survivors of rape and sexual assault, like Wiggett, are standing up, speaking out and finding the courage to confront their perpetrators. My inbox has been flooded with messages since Wiggett and News24 revealed Breytenbach's identity. I would like to share some of the common themes from them.
The first reaction from many people to the Breytenbach revelations and to other sexual predators in the newsroom, classroom and boardroom who have not yet been exposed, is, "we always suspected something, but we didn't know it was this bad".
It is easy to judge these reactions, but I find it more useful to use this as a learning moment and identify and name those red flags that should have been picked up years ago.
"His appointments were always the same profile: young, blond and pretty." Again, these words have been used in reference to Breytenbach, but could be applied universally. Surely it should be a red flag in any organisation if a manager or boss prefers to appoint only one profile, particularly young, vulnerable employees who need the boost for their careers.
"He made it clear that he could make or break your career. People who stayed close to him were promoted and given senior titles." It seems to be a common thread among sexual predators to use their seniority and influence as weapons to silence their victims. Human resource practitioners should track promotions and titles closely.
"We didn't know who to complain to or if we could even complain. He was so powerful and influential." This is a frequent response from victims who were abused by senior managers in corporations.
Although South Africa has a progressive Constitution and Bill of Rights, companies should openly and actively encourage employees to blow the whistle in a safe environment. It should be clear to companies and managers that if they turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, they will themselves be exposed as accomplices.
In Breytenbach's case, the biggest tragedy is that safety nets were either non-existent, broken or ignored when he committed his first sexual abuses as a teacher at Grey College in 1990. Yes, it was a different time, but that is no excuse for a school not protecting the most vulnerable in society – our children – against a predator, making his way to his next target.
In Breytenbach's case, it was two more schools before he joined Die Burger as education reporter in 1995. None of the three schools where abuse took place made sure that Breytenbach was properly investigated and removed from society if convicted. More of this will be revealed in Episode 4 of My Only Story on Thursday.
This is a major indictment against our education system and Minister Angie Motshekga and her MECs in all nine provinces will do well to use these 16 days to make sure systems are in place to expose and remove sexual abusers from schools.
In addition to that, South Africa should once and for all sort out our register of sexual offenders, that should be available to all companies and schools before they recruit. This is a minimum requirement to stop the scourge of sexual abuse in our country.
- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.
* News24 will continue to investigate the Breytenbach case, as well as any other stories of sexual abuse. If you have information, send an email to email@example.com.