As allegations of sexual harassment against the ANC’s Marius Fransman stands to be investigated, opposition parties, women rights groups and community members are up in arms in light of claims that he was reinstated by the African National Congress (ANC). Earlier this year, Fransman, who is the chairman of ANC in the Western Cape, was accused by a 20 year old young lady, Louisa Wynand, of making numerous sexual advances to her during the ANC birthday celebrations. While the case was previously dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority citing insufficient evidence, the surfacing of incriminating Whatsapp exchanges between Wynand and Fransman, which supports Wynand’s claims, opens the door for a further investigation. Despite the political scandal, last week, Fransman was seen campaigning as part of the ANC in the Western Cape, even sharing a table with President Jacob Zuma at the lunch hosted for the president by the Muslim Judicial Council.
In response to calls by community members for clarity on the current status of Fransman within the ANC, on Thursday the ANC’s head of elections Nomvula Mokonyane announced that Fransman is no longer suspended.
The announcement was quickly denied by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who described the announcement as “ill-disciplined.”
“Marius was asked to step aside after [a] national working committee [meeting], so now the integrity commission has completed its work, it has recommended the case be given to the disciplinary committee. He hasn’t appeared before the committee yet. Until then, he can’t return to his position,” Mantashe told News24.
Speaking to VOC, Practising attorney and member of the Women’s Legal Centre, Jody-Lee Fredericks explains that given the ANC’s continued public association with the disgraced official, the ANC’s manner in which it is dealing with the controversy surrounding Fransman remains unclear.
In response to the ANC’s actions, Fredericks says that the Shukumisa Campaign, which as part of the legal centre is made up of 40 civil society organizations, has released a statement in condemnation of the party’s recent “behaviour.”
“What we are particularly concerned about is the messaging revolving in the media around sexual harassment, what happens when women actually report sexual harassment or sexual violence and how it is dealt with from beginning to end,” Hendricks added.
She says that in the case concerning Fransman, after the alleged victim came forward with details of the allegation, she was vilified in the media and on social media platforms.
“We are very concerned that the ANC, knowing all of this, can reinstate someone and allow him to engage in the political arena. So, we are concerned with the example that this is setting.”
While Hendricks notes the importance of due process, she says despite the legal process of Fransman’s case, in which the case was dropped, community members need to remain mindful that he may not be innocent.
“You can open a criminal offence, which then goes through the judicial system; you lodge a complaint with the police, there is an investigation, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) then makes the decision whether to prosecute or not, based on whether there is enough evidence to secure a conviction. That discretionary right does not state that the perpetrator is not guilty. It just merely means that there is not enough evidence to secure a conviction…I wouldn’t go as far as saying he was found not guilty, because the matter was not tried,” Hendricks asserts.
She further notes that in cases related to sexual harassment, the allegations fall within the ambit of labour law. The alleged victim is, therefore, expected to lodge an internal complaint within his/her company or organisation where internal disciplinary measures are enforced.
Hendricks explains that while she is unable to comment on the internal disciplinary measures of the ANC, media reports and Fransman’s presence during ANC’s campaigns indicate that the party found no evidence of inappropriate behaviour.
She, however, notes that while Fransman appears to have gained the support of his party, it is not clear whether the ANC followed its mandated due process.
“A complaint was made. So, what we are grappling with is what due process was followed, since there is no evidence that there was any sort of due process, and yet we have come to the conclusion that he was found not guilty.”
In light of increased gender violence within South Africa, Hendricks further notes that victims of sexual abuse and harassment are often victimized.
The stance of the ANC she, therefore, asserts perpetuates the reality that if victims come forward they stand a chance of losing their employment and may likely be vilified by their communities.
“In terms of public perception, our moral fibre is not that strong, whereby we support the victim. Instead, we do tend to support the perpetrators and victimize victims. So we need to look at what kind of support we provide the victim and how it actually perpetuated violence,” Hendricks continued.