A domestic worker employed by the embassy of an African country in Pretoria has accused the ambassador of sexual assault, alleging the crimes happened over a span of three years under threat of dismissal should she report it.
Speaking outside the Brooklyn police station in Pretoria yesterday, Johanna Lekalala, 42, said the ambassador would take advantage of her when she was working alone on weekends at the embassy’s residence. She said the ambassador would often complain about painful shoulders and would summon her to his bedroom.
“He would call me to his bedroom and would forcefully make me hold his private parts. I was scared to report this because he always said he was protected by the department of international relations and cooperation [Dirco] and had diplomatic immunity.
“He said if I did talk, he would get me fired,” she said.
The single mother from Pankop, Mpumalanga, had been employed at the embassy since 2010, working under two ambassadors. She said the perpetrator had already fired three people since taking over.
“I continue to go to work because I need to support my children. It is difficult being an independent mother. The ambassador asked for forgiveness and I managed to record him admitting to what he has done.”
The matter was reported to the Brooklyn police on March 1, but according to the Union for Local Employees in Missions Accredited to South African (Ulemasa), which picketed outside the police station yesterday, two female police officers discouraged Lekalala from pursuing the case.
“The constable assigned to investigate the case went to the residence where she works, but instead of interviewing her, they told her to withdraw the case because the ambassador is powerful and could organise people to kill her. We are unhappy with this behaviour,” said Ulemasa deputy secretary Segametsi Mandlazi.
National police spokesperson Brigadier Naidoo said the matter was under investigation.
“I can confirm that an employee of an embassy in Pretoria has opened a criminal case against an ambassador of that embassy. The case is being investigated by our family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit. On completion of the investigation, we will present the docket to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision,” Naidoo said.
Dirco spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaye said: “We are told there is a police case opened, meaning we must allow the police to do their investigations.”
SA charges won’t stick – expert
Police would likely be forced to drop charges against the African ambassador accused of sexually assaulting his domestic worker at a Pretoria embassy, as his country would assert diplomatic immunity.
The Institute for Security Studies’ African Court of Justice and human rights expert Allan Ngari said the sexual assault matter would have to be handled by the man’s home country.
“The SA Police Service would have to drop the charges because it [the ambassador’s country] would have to assert immunity for their official and likely call back the case to be handled domestically. That is the meaning of diplomatic immunity.
“Any actions of any foreign nationals while in service are to be handled by their own domestic processes and not by foreign jurisdictions.
“While we might be aggrieved that it is a South African citizen or someone living in South Africa whose rights have been violated, the nature of diplomatic immunity is protection given by the state to all officials working abroad – not that they don’t be investigated or prosecuted, but that it is done by the sending state,” Ngari said.
Diplomatic immunity can only be revoked once the foreign official is recalled by their state and cannot be revoked by South Africa, he explained.
“Some know it and abuse it in office. The only petition is for their country and their government to recall him for investigations to be done.”