‘I was sacked cos I’m gay’

2017-08-27 07:34
Themba Wakashe

The Film and Publication Board (FPB), this week dropped all of its reported 279 charges against its former chief executive officer (CEO), Themba Wakashe.

According to sources close to Wakashe, as well as two current and former FPB insiders who do not wish to be identified, the FPB not only dropped the charges, it also agreed to pay out Wakashe’s contract, a whopping R2.1 million, in return for his resignation, and offered to write him a positive letter of reference.

“They did so to avoid being sued,” alleged one of the sources.

The claims against Wakashe, suspended in October 2016, made the news in May this year when City Press’ sister newspaper Rapport published details from a leaked charge sheet against the former arts and culture director-general.

The charges included that he sent sexual messages to male colleagues, invited one to a hotel, and gave a male colleague a tablet and asked him to delete porn websites from it; that he arrived at work smelling of alcohol; and that he misused leave and travel facilities.

City Press has reliably learnt that a well-known forensic audit and business consulting firm was paid just shy of R1 million to investigate every aspect of Wakashe’s work performance before this week’s settlement was offered by the FPB.

In the past few months, said the sources, there had been a spate of executive resignations from the body that classifies South African film and TV content and has been turning its attention to internet content regulation policies.

The FPB this week was unwilling to comment.

Communications manager Manala Botolo said: “The FPB confirms that Mr Wakashe has resigned as CEO following an agreement of mutual separation.

"The FPB will not comment on the issues raised as the agreement signed with Mr Wakashe contains a confidentiality/nondisclosure clause.”

Some weeks ago, when contacted by City Press, Wakashe said that no evidence was ever presented to his lawyers to support the charges, including that of sexual harassment, and that his secretary – and not he – had used his state-owned tablet.

He was not willing to discuss the claims this week because of the confidentiality clause.

All Wakashe was willing to say about the drama was: “You know, there’s one thing that they will never, ever accept. Never. They will deny it, but it’s the issue of my sexual orientation.”

Wakashe has never hidden the fact that he is gay and, according to several sources, the FPB is known to house, among some of its workers and council members, a culture of conservative Christianity that does not hold homosexuality in a favourable light.

This corresponds with what insiders told City Press in 2013 about why the FPB in effect banned the film Of Good Report by refusing to classify it, claiming that it promoted child pornography.

The film was unbanned on appeal and went on to be named best film at the SA Film and Television Awards.

Ironically, Wakashe was chosen to present the best film award that year, just weeks into his new job after leaving Luthuli House for the FPB.

He used the opportunity to clear the air and actively defused tensions around the drama.

He also, say insiders, immediately began to address the 1996 act governing the FPB as it was outmoded in terms of the massive technological advances in the years since it was legislated.

He began to implement new, more scientific ways to classify films – the system has been open to anyone who applies and not content experts.

In addition he worked on a Pan-African internet policy, expanding the FPB’s role beyond its narrow focus. This led, say sources, to a great deal of engagement with new stakeholders and FPB constituents.

“That meant a lot of travel and I know him, he worked weekends. But they said he was at work irregularly. They never understood what he did,” said a former colleague this week, adding:

“And anyway the fingerprint security system at FPB doesn’t even work, it never has, so how do they know when he was there?”

Sources spoke of tension between Wakashe and the 2015-appointed FPB council chosen under the watch of former communications minister Faith Muthambi.

Wakashe was apparently never allowed to defend himself from the charges before being suspended on full pay.

“The newspaper report made him out to be a sexual monster,” said a source this week.

“They also tried to say he was running the FPB into the ground. But the council stood up in Parliament and reported on a pretty clean audit. So I don’t know what ‘shambles’ they were referring to.”

The FPB this week would not comment on whether certain members of its council targeted Wakashe, nor whether there was a quorum at the council meeting where it was decided to suspend him.

All Botolo would say was: “The minutes of FPB’s council meetings are confidential and cannot be shared publicly.

“The rest of the issues are internal-governance issues that are being dealt with internally.”

Subsequent to publishing, the FPB issued a statement saying that it was “disappointed at a perception given to the public that it is a discriminatory organisation.” Here is the full statement:

The Film and Publication Board is disappointed at a perception given to the public that it is a discriminatory organisation.

We have noted with disappointment the article published in your newspaper on Sunday, 27 August titled ‘I was sacked cos I’m gay’.  A number of issues are raised in the article and this is not an attempt to respond to all of them due to space limitations.  However, we wish to state the following:
a) The former CEO, Mr Wakashe was an employee of the FPB who was subjected to an internal disciplinary process as a result of investigations that were undertaken.  The FPB has labour relations and governance policies that ensure the organisation does not discriminate on the basis of race, culture, sexual orientation and all other rights as espoused in the Bill of Rights.  We can therefore assure your readers that the principle of fairness and justice were upheld throughout the process. 

b) The FPB wishes to place it on record that the mutually agreed upon decision to suspend and terminate Mr. Wakashe’s contract had nothing to do with his sexual orientation, as he never declared his status as LGBTIQ.  We are not at liberty to state the reasons for agreeing to part ways with him due to a non-disclosure agreement signed by both parties. As the organisation, our track record speaks for itself when it comes to working with LGBTIQ community; we have and continue to support a number of initiatives including the Feather Awards and related outreach initiatives. We are disappointed that during his time with us, he could not be an ambassador for the values we hold in such high regard. We lost an opportunity to make a greater positive impact in the LGBTIQ community and the entire citizenry. As the FPB, we will continue to rollout awareness campaigns in the LGBITQ community, as we have been doing over the years.  We wish Mr. Wakashe well in his future endeavors. 

Lastly, the Film and Publication Board has a responsibility to classify films, games and certain publications in line with South African values and norms.  The FPB prides itself in being guided by the values as espoused in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. These, as adopted in our corporate strategy include the values of respect for human dignity, equality and social justice. Furthermore, these are a fundamental cornerstone of the content classification system applied when rating content. Over the twenty years of its existence, the FPB has developed a technically sound content regulation system that ensures the public interest mandate of the organisation is adequately responded to. City Press and media at large are welcome to further engage and learn about this system. 

This regulatory system ensures that all decisions remain in-line with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and other applicable legislation. Working with our internal appeals mechanisms, all classification decisions have been reached without necessitating a judicial review process as they have been within the prescript of the law. These include the ‘Of Good Report’ classification decisions your article refers to. We are confident that the FPB has developed solid institutional arrangements that continue to function optimally despite the challenges the organisation has faced in recent times. We are still able to receive and classify content from industry with no substantive complaints received in the form of appeals.

Compiled By: 
Ms Thoko Mpumlwana
FPB Council Chairperson


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