The Marius Fransman sexual harassment saga is indicative of situations where powerful men use their power to manipulate young women and often violate their personal space, says one gender activist. The case has again thrown the spotlight on the power dynamic between men and women in the corporate arena and has shown how young women are sexually vulnerable to their male seniors.
Police in Kimberley have reopened a case of sexual assault against the ANC Western Cape leader, after a series of WhatsApp messages Fransman sent to 20-year-old woman, Louisa Wynand, were forwarded by Daily Maverick to the National Prosecuting Authority, who in turn forwarded them to the Northern Cape Deputy Director of Public Prosecution. Police had previously announced that the charges had been withdrawn “due to a lack of evidence”. The messages paint a picture of a manipulative and inappropriately flirtatious communication between a married politician and his newly-appointed young employee.
“She could be his daughter, she was on the up in her job, and she was looking for new opportunities simply because her hours were long into the morning,” says columnist and gender activist Rhoda Kadalie, who also serves as the executive director of Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre.
The saga began in January when Fransman and Wynand, accompanied by Donovan Cloete and Majiet Mogamat travelled to ANC celebrations in Rustenburg. The party, however allegedly made a decoy and stayed overnight in the Kimberley Road Lodge.
Wynand alleges that Fransman made sexual advances to her and repeatedly told her to share his room on her, despite her continued protests.
Whilst at dinner that evening, Wynand excused herself and approached hotel security to inform them of the situation who referred her to an SAPS member in the hotel. The policeman, who said that she was deployed specifically to provide security for the ANC celebrations, refused to assist Wynand.
Wynand subsequently made her way to the Sun City Charge Office where she was assisted by an SAPS clerk. The clerk, after assisting Wynand to escape through a back window, arranged for her to be collected from the Sun City Police Station and taken to Lanseria Airport.
Kadalie said Wynand’s responses to the messages show a girl who is naïve, since she does not reply to his “hitting on her throughout the conversation.”
“That stood out – as a gender equity officer at the University of the Western Cape for many years, my antenna is very sensitive to how men in power trap innocent young girls.”
Kadalie further noted that upon meeting Wynand, she was surprised to discover that despite her naivety, the young girl was alert when things were not going as she expected and questioned Fransman.
“When they were on their way to the Northern Cape, she took out her GPS and asked why they were going to the Northern Cape, since it is not on the way to Rustenburg. She was alert because she was innocent,” Kadalie continued.
She explained that a more worrying aspect of the situation, aside from Fransman’s presence, was the fact that other grown men were present on this trip and said that she believes allegations made by Wynand to fall within the sphere of abduction since Wynand was lured away under false pretences.
Kadalie added that Wynand’s reaction by coming forward with the information shows that she understood Fransman’s alleged unspoken terms of the agreement.
“This is serious, it is not only about sexual assault, but it is the quid pro quo of sexual harassment; you don’t do what I say, you will not get the job,” she noted.
Since the party arrived in the Northern Cape in the middle of the night, Kadalie asserts that Wynand was unable to escape following instruction that she was to share a room with the minister.
She said that her experience at the UWC has proved the character of certain men who hold seats of power, but who neglect to use their power positively.
“I think Fransman is an ‘old hand’ at this and the whole plot was planned. The men behaved like pimps, since they booked the room so you can never identify him [Fransman] with a room or a purchase. This is the power of politics and how they destroy young women,” Kadalie concludes.