Nokuzola goes to work with a heavy heart. Every night she has to clean ten dirty offices, one corridor and a cloakroom. She works from six o’clock in the evening until three o’clock in the morning.
This kind of work is enough to make anybody unhappy. But Nokuzola has an extra problem. The supervisor at work is in love with her. Or, he says he is. Every night he asks her to make love to him.
Every night she say no. But she is very worried. The supervisor is getting tired of waiting. He says he will get her fired – unless she gives him what he wants. Nokuzola has children to feed in Soweto. And she supports her parents too.
This story is not new. It happens all the time. Many women are bothered by men at work. Sometimes it’s the supervisor, sometimes it’s the boss, sometimes it’s a fellow worker. This problem is called sexual harrassment, or love abuse.
In May, there was a meeting about women workers in Noordgesig. Many speakers spoke about the problem of sexual harrassment.
Adrienne Bird, who is the education officer at Fosatu said:
“There are many different kinds of sexuaI harrassment. For example, when men call women names like ‘bitch’ or ‘cow’. Or when men feel free to touch a woman’s body. Or even worse. Some managements think that women must make love to the boss. They think that women must buy their jobs with their own bodies. Jobs for sex. This happens a lot in South Africa.”
At the same meeting Elizabeth Makhanjwa spoke. Elizabeth is a shop steward in the Transport and General Workers Union. She is also a night cleaner. Elizabeth told the story of a fellow worker.
“There was a young woman who worked with us,” she said. “One of the security guards wanted to have sex with her. He offered her R 10 a night. The woman needed the money very badly – and so she took his R10. Then one night while they were busy in the toilet, the supervisor came and caught them. The woman was afraid and she ran away. So she lost her job. All because of R 10.”
“But,” Elizabeth says, “there is even a worse problem. In Soweto we have supervisors’ children. Our husbands suffer. They have to feed children who are not theirs.”
‘Mama” Lydia Kompe also spoke at the meeting. She is the branch secretary of the same union. She said that women who work at night suffer most from sexual harrassment. She asked what will happen now that the Immorality Act has gone. Now white men can have sex with black women. Things will get worse. Now there is no law that protects black women in any way.
For a long time women were too ashamed to talk about sexual harrassment. They told nobody not even their unions. But now this is changing.
Women have begun talking about sexual harrassment – and trade unions are now trying to fight this problem. They have made a start.
“There was a story of sexuaI harrassment at the Unilever Factory in 1983,” says Piroshaw Camay of CUSA, a big group of unions. “A manager was bothering a white woman worker. The woman was asked to leave the company. The woman was not a member of the union. But all the black workers were – and they went on strike. The union won an agreement from the company about sexual harrassment. “
Another union, CCAWUSA, told Learn and Teach about two women who suffered from sexual harrassment – and who lost their jobs afterwards.
“Both times we asked the women to lay charges with the police,” says Vivi Masina, an organiser at the union. “But the women were married and they didn’t want the story to get around. This is one of the biggest problems. But the union still fought for the women. We got them their jobs back.”
Vivi also spoke about the problems women have when they go to the police. The police are often not very caring. They ask the women all kinds of questions – and they often do not believe her story.
A group of trade union members at the Dunlop factory fought the problem in a different way. They laid a trap for a personnel officer. The personnel officer was selling jobs for sex. When a new worker came to the factory, they saw him take her into his office – and lock the door. They quickly called the manager. The manager came and caught the personnel officer having sex with the new worker. The manager fired the personnel officer. The woman did not get fired.
A shop steward at the factory wrote about what happened. He sent the letter to many trade unions. He said it was a good example of how workers can stop sexual harrassment. He ended the letter by saying: “It was far better than allowing workers to assault him as they wished. We just refused and promised them that we would solve the problem. And now they are all happy.”
The shop steward who wrote the letter was a well known man. He was the late Andries Raditsela, the man who died from brain injuries two hours after the police were finished with him. Raditsela is dead, but the struggle against sexual harrassment goes on.