MP wants a line drawn on errant architects
● The foundations of SA’s architectural regulator have been rocked by allegations of harassment in its 11-member ruling council.
Now public works minister Patricia de Lille has ordered an independent investigation of allegations that male councillors at the South African Council for the Architectural Profession have been harassing women councillors.
In a parliamentary answer, De Lille said she ordered the investigation after receiving an unsatisfactory response from council president Ntsindiso Nduku, an architect in East London.
DA MP Madeleine Hicklin asked De Lille what she had done to protect women councillors and whether the council had policies to protect whistleblowers.
Hicklin also asked De Lille if she had been informed about allegations that
Nduku abused his power. The minister replied that she “exercises oversight over the council, which in turn has oversight on the [council’s] executive management”.
She had been informed about “challenges besetting the effective and efficient functioning” of the council and how to deal with these.
Some of the council’s four women councillors declined to speak about the allegations this week because the “investigation is still pending”.
But the council denied the allegations and accused former members of criticising it.
“[The council] is aware of attempts by some individuals to discredit the leadership of the council and its registrar,” said vicepresident Letsabisa Shongwe, saying the harassment claims followed the removal of two council members.
“The matter has been reported to the minister and all questions relating to this matter have been responded to extensively,” she added. “The council welcomes and supports a comprehensive investigation into the matter through the minister and trusts that this will be effected as soon as possible to clear any aspersions against the council and the registrar.”
Hicklin said a woman councillor had told her she “feared for her life”, adding that she was not satisfied with De Lille’s response.
“These challenges have been ongoing for at least 18 months, and have severely hampered the work of the council,” said Hicklin.
She said the DA had two reports that painted a bleak picture of the council.
“The reports expose the apparent abuse of power by [the council’s] president in the treatment of black female councillors. The bullying and harassment being experienced by them is said to be perpetrated by the ‘president, registrar and a certain faction within the council’. According to the reports, this has resulted in the affected councillors being ‘targeted, sabotaged, undermined, bullied and harassed incessantly’,” she said.
“The governance challenges at [the council] are also said to be so extreme that they have affected the ability of councillors in the performance of fiduciary duties.”
Hicklin said De Lille and deputy minister Noxolo Kiviet were sent the reports on December 4 2020. “The minister has had three months to action this investigation. Instead, she chose to twiddle her thumbs on the matter while female councillors were still expected to work under these horrid conditions,” she said.
The allegations were also sent to the Commission for Gender Equality and the South African Institute of Architects.
“As the policy leader for the department of public works & infrastructure, we call on minister De Lille to take responsibility … to get the appropriate policy on transformation — with a specific focus on bullying and sexual harassment — on her desk within three months,” she said.
De Lille did not respond to Sunday Times questions.