#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | Universities say policies protect victims

SOUTH AFRICA

More than half of the universities in South Africa have indicated that they have policies in place and are proactively dealing with complaints of bullying at their institutions.Of the 15 institutions University World News contacted in response to recent concerns raised by Brightness Mangolothi, the director of Higher Education Resource Services South Africa (HERS-SA) about bullying in the sector, only one did not have any existing policy in some form, but was busy with developing one. Increasingly institutions are also focusing on interventions to counter cyber-bullying.

Institutions say they approach bullying, discrimination and harassment with zero-tolerance.

Africa’s largest distance and open education provider, the University of South Africa (UNISA), said a policy had been in place since November 2013. Last year 20 complaints related to bullying were lodged and this year six were being probed. UNISA said in a statement that one respondent resigned, three cases were dismissed due to a lack of evidence, four cases were recommended for disciplinary action and eight had mediation, which resulted in an amicable settlement being reached. Another six cases were pending, according to the statement.

Gender-based violence also addressed

Rikus Delport, spokesperson for the University of Pretoria, said it had a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy which dealt with all human rights violations and discrimination-related issues, including bullying.

Delport said there was no case of bullying recorded in 2019, but currently two cases were under investigation. “All discrimination is taken extremely seriously, and the university is committed to a zero-tolerance approach to such matters,” he said.

Alan Khan, spokesperson for Durban University of Technology (DUT), said it had a policy addressing harassment, gender-based violence and bullying. In August, DUT held a webinar focusing on important topics including sexual harassment, gender-based violence and bullying, to educate the staff about the policy and remind them about their rights.

“In 2019 there were three bullying matters reported. The first one is currently undergoing a disciplinary hearing. On the second matter, the employee resigned when charged and invited to attend his/her disciplinary hearing. The last hearing was concluded, and the accused has been issued with a warning,” said Khan.

Help for cyber-bullied victims

Gasant Abarder, spokesperson for the University of Western Cape, said the university had a disciplinary code of conduct that covers bullying. “No cases were formally recorded last year but one was probed this year, resulting in a workshop being held.”

Sol Plaatje University said it did not tolerate bullying behaviour. “In the event that an employee is bullied, he/she can lay a grievance through the human resources department and it would be dealt with in terms of the policy on grievance procedures,” said spokesperson Mosima Mehlape.

No cases were reported last year or in 2020, but a policy on cyber-bullying was being developed. In the interim, cyber-bullied employees are provided with counselling.

Normah Zondo, the spokesperson for the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it had an anti-bullying policy. “We are aware of two cyber-bullying matters that are currently under investigation. The university has zero-tolerance to bullying of any kind. Anyone found guilty of bullying will be dealt with in accordance with our disciplinary code,” she said.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said it did not have a separate policy on bullying, but a clear policy on unfair discrimination and harassment and a disciplinary code for students.

“Bullying per se is not addressed as a separate issue on campus but would form part of ongoing awareness campaigns, counselling, training and reporting mechanisms for all staff and students at the university,” he said.

Behaviour intended to humiliate

Tshwane University of Technology said it had a policy driven by council, which stated that ‘bullying’ meant unwarranted humiliating, offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour and-or an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

Semenokane Seithati, spokesperson for Central University of Technology, said it had a policy that dealt with harassment that caters for unacceptable workplace behaviour such as bullying.

Tandi Mapukata, spokesperson at the University of Fort Hare, said the university currently did not have a stand-alone policy on bullying. “However, the gender-based policy contained a clause that addressed bullying.”

Spokesperson for the Vaal University of Technology, Mike Khuboni, said the university had no policy on bullying, but was working on it.

North-West University spokesperson, Louis Jacobs, said the university had a behavioural manual addressing bullying, and it applied to all employees. “Over the past two years there were three cases of bullying addressed through formal disciplinary process. We have received some reports of bullying which did not culminate in formal hearings but were managed proactively and progressively,” he said.

Policies to be expedited

Lacea Loader, spokesperson for the University of the Free State, said the institution adopted anti-discrimination procedures in 2018 and provides training to staff on workplace bullying.

“Although a number of alleged cases of workplace bullying have been reported and investigated since 2019, these cases are normally problematic as staff members can rarely provide adequate notes and-or records of incidents, which hampers the investigation process,” she said.

Buhle Zuma, spokesperson for the University of the Witwatersrand, said Wits was committed to eradicating all forms of unfair discrimination, including bullying, harassment, victimisation and vilification from its environment, in order to build a socially inclusive and cosmopolitan institution.

“In 2019 the university terminated the contract of employment of a senior member of the academic staff after a number of complaints of bullying against him were confirmed. A new draft anti-bullying policy has been developed and is being considered by various internal constituencies,” she said.

Spokesperson for the University of Cape Town Elijah Moholola said its policy on bullying was a work in progress. “The UCT Council and the Office of the Ombud have committed to expediting the adoption of the bullying policy,” he said.

In 2019 there were four cases of bullying or cases where bullying was mentioned. In each instance staff members utilised the internal grievance mechanisms at their disposal. In proven instances of bullying, this was resolved either through mediation or a disciplinary process. UCT has an independent body, the Ombud, who may also receive complaints. These complaints are reported on separately, he said.


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