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  • Ivor Chipkin

Robala ka Khutso Mpho Motswalle waka

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

11 August 2019

Mpho Mohapi has died, my dear friend and my colleague. Mpho was one of PARI’s first employees. She quit the hospitality industry to take her chances on a new research organization with no track record, with hardly any money and with a bold if not unglamorous ambition: to help build the administrative capacity of the State. Actually, I think she was drawn to the sheer audacity of the PARI vision.

Mpho had style and a quiet charm. She brought to PARI an air of sophistication and substance whenever she answered the phone, “Public Affairs Research Institute, Mpho speaking”. She handled people firmly and with great dignity. She saw everything. She was super-efficient, rising within a few years from receptionist to head of administration – a task of growing complexity and challenge as the organization grew and diversified. She was acknowledged and rewarded by the PARI board year after year. 

The circumstances of her death are terribly painful. It looks like her health deteriorated after a series of personal tragedies until two weeks ago she was placed on life support. She died on Monday in a hospital in Mabopane – the same day as my second daughter, Noa, was born. The strange symmetry of life and death.

The organization that gave her such life also seems to me to have become a danger to her. For over the last several months Mpho claimed that she was suffering ongoing harassment and marginalization by the new PARI Exco. In February she complained to the PARI board about allegations of harassment at the hands of Mbongiseni Buthelezi.  She copied me on the letter to her lawyer. “I feel unsafe and harassed by Mbongiseni,” she wrote. “Please will the board intervene and protect me,” the letter concludes. I do not know if Mucha Musemwa, the chair of the board, replied to her letter. The claims of abuse did not stop, however, and the last time I spoke to her, just before she became unconscious, Mpho was anxious that her illness would be used as an excuse to fire her.  

What made her the target of the new director and the Exco? According to the letter that she wrote to the board in February: “I think I am being harassed out of PARI because I think it is wrong the way we are now expected to say that everything was bad when Ivor was the director and I made the choice to believe Ivor”.

So, what was the truth that Mpho insisted on? For me, the easiest answer is in relation to the regime of falsehoods that have been disseminated.

In June  2018 the then PARI exco received two complaints against me for gender harm. PARI had a nominal relationship with Wits university and the complainants were advised that they could approach the Wits Gender Equity Office. This happened and the GEO launched an investigation.

On the 21st of September 2018, the Saturday Star ran a false and defamatory story about me claiming that I had resigned from PARI to avoid a disciplinary hearing. The implication was that I was guilty. The simple facts are these:

There were no charges against me, there were no grounds for charges against me and there was no disciplinary process. As PARI’s own lawyers advised “no charges were ever brought against Ivor and […]  had the process been carried through, there would have been no grounds for charges”. The independent review conducted by Bowmans reached the same conclusion.

The PARI board was convinced that the source of the false Saturday Star story was the GEO itself. I do not know if this is true or not. What I do know is that the Saturday Star, when approached by my lawyers, revealed recently that Mbongiseni Buthelezi was the informant for their story about the circumstances of my resignation. Buthelezi has denied the claim. The Saturday Star, however, is adamant. Meanwhile, Buthelezi made the same false claims about me in legal proceedings and in my view has committed perjury.

Mpho objected to this culture. She appears to have been abused and marginalised for objecting to it. Why did no-one speak up for her?

The minutes of the last board meeting that I attended in 2018 note the following: “Patrick Heller [Head of the Department of Sociology at Brown University] made the point that in all his experience of research organizations/ civil society bodies around the world, none in his knowledge has had the kind of impact that PARI has had in South Africa”. This is the PARI that Mpho helped to build.

Robala ka Khutso Mpho, my friend and colleague. I cannot believe that you have gone.

Arrangements are being made to bury Mpho in Lesotho near the end of August. 

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