Wits prof gets the boot for bullying women
The academic lost his appeal after being found guilty in December
A University of the Witwatersrand professor has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the institution’s first academic to be fired for bullying women.
Prof Fethi Ahmed recently lost his appeal after being found guilty in December of bullying several female academics and administrative staff members.
A three-member hearing panel comprising two law professors and a gender expert heard the complaints against Ahmed, which ranged from him making sexist comments towards colleagues, women being overlooked for promotion and some being treated like children.
The university’s senior executive team said in an internal notice last week a senior academic had been dismissed “after a number of complaints of gender-based bullying against him were confirmed”.
It said “gender-based bullying” was a systemic form of harm or discrimination that included aggression, belittling, verbal intimidation or maltreatment.The notice stated the senior executive team was striving to create an environment in which all members “feel comfortable and free from any form of discrimination”.The complaints against Ahmed, who headed the school of geography, archaeology and environmental sciences, were investigated by the university’s gender equity office, which deals with sexual harassment.
There were nine complainants. “He basically engaged in a series of practices over an extended period of time that resulted in nearly all of these women actually having incredible trauma in the workplace. They had to seek psychological support,” said a Wits employee who did not want to be named.
“He systematically, over a period of time, belittled, undermined and marginalised these women in his school.”
Ahmed declined to comment, saying the matter had been referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
Two former Constitutional Court judges – Yvonne Mokgoro and Zak Yacoob – heard Ahmed’s appeal and confirmed the sanction against him.
Times Select understands Justice Yacoob spent more than 20 minutes questioning Ahmed about an e-mail he had sent to one of the complainants who did not report for duty because her child was sick and had to be hospitalised.
The complainant sent the e-mail to the school’s administrator, who then passed it on to Ahmed.
“Ahmed’s response was: ‘I am sorry to the hear your child is sick. Complete a leave form next time and don’t e-mail the administrator.’”
The Wits communiqué said after Ahmed had been found guilty, he appealed against the finding.
“The jurists found no reason to overturn the hearing panel’s finding and recommendation that the individual’s employment contract be terminated. They deemed the sanction appropriate given the gravity, systematic and protracted nature of the misconduct,” said the communiqué.
Shalen Gajadhar, spokesperson for the government’s department of women, welcomed the ruling.
“Women in professional spaces still face harassment, bullying, acts of intimidation and outwardly aggressive behaviour, which are being normalised through misogynistic workplace cultures and environments.”
The university’s gender equity office (GEO), which investigated the Ahmed case, has itself been the subject of an investigation.
Wits vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib last year commissioned advocate Adila Hassim to conduct an independent assessment to help him address some of the challenges associated with the GEO.
Wits spokesperson Buhle Zuma said: “Our policies require us to treat these matters confidentially, and it is for these reasons that the report will not be released publicly.”
She said one of the report’s recommendations was proposals “to facilitate the timeous conclusion of investigations and hearings”.
She declined to comment on questions around Ahmed’s case, saying the university was bound by “certain legal parameters”, which prescribed how it responded to queries involving the personal details of individuals.