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This week, with the tragic death of Gugu Zulu, I wanted to write about love and the wounds of loss. But then President Jacob Zuma came to Cape Town last Thursday. And there he was flanked by none other than Marius Fransman. When Zuma did his bodyguard-surrounded walkabout in Nelson Mandela Bay, Danny Jordaan was nowhere to be seen. But not Fransman. No, he was right there, next to his friend, the president, confirming what many have been saying in the ANC, that he is protected by Number One.
Before I go any further, I should declare that I have known Fransman for over 20 years. I have never socialised with him, but we have worked and canvassed together numerous times since pre-1994. I was saddened when I heard about the accusations of sexual harassment against him by Louisa Wynand and wanted to believe it was not true.
I don’t know Louisa Wynand at all, but I have read and listened to the various interviews she has given. She comes across as someone who is principled and balanced. Her story has stayed consistent and she seems to be well aware, as many women before who have laid complaints against powerful men have come to realise, that it would be far easier for her to drop the case than to continue with it. She has already lost her privacy, sense of security and job, and will continue to struggle to rebuild her life long after this matter is, well, put to bed.
Fransman on the other hand, has only issued a few press statements and declined requests for interviews, presumably on legal advice.
Questions about the case
In the absence of any clarification from Fransman, numerous questions remain about this case:
Firstly: Why was Wynand taken along to an ANC conference, when she was apparently not working for Fransman in an ANC capacity, but in his private business?
Secondly: Knowing that there were at least three people travelling together, why were there only two rooms booked at the Flamingo hotel and Casino in Kimberley? Of course before 1994 when party money was scarce ANC comrades of the same gender were required to share rooms at ANC events, (I shared a room with Naledi Pandor once, but that is a story for another day). However, 20 years later, I won’t buy it for a second that a former Cabinet Member was planning to share a room with one of his male comrades. My guess is that the ANC covered the cost of two rooms for the official delegates, but not for Wynand, because she wasn’t there in an ANC capacity. But then, why did Fransman not pay for an extra one? A room at the hotel in questions costs R595 per night and an additional R70 for breakfast - not a big stretch on his salary and if it was a legitimate business expense, he could have claimedit back.
Thirdly: Fransman has insisted that Wynand’s allegations were a “honey-trap”, set up by his political opponents. Perhaps. Politics is a dirty business, but Fransman is a seasoned politician. So morals aside, the question remains why it did not cross his mind that as a 47-year-old married man it might create a problem for him when found to be visiting the room of a 21-year-old young woman.
And then, of course, his recently released text messages to her have remained unexplained. If the messages are a true reflection of what was sent, it is difficult to understand how it can be construed as appropriate behaviour between an employer and employee.
I doubt that we shall ever get any answers to these questions, but I think the ANC needs to explain why Fransman was flanking the president last week, when this matter has not been resolved.
It is likely that by the time this column is published the ANC will be saying that his appearance with Zuma was not officially sanctioned, but I won’t believe for a minute that Fransman would just rock up at such a high profile event and risk that the circle of body guards would ask him to leave. No, this must have been agreed to in advance. And so the message to us all is clear: Fransman is back and has the support of the most powerful man in the country.
It is important to note that Fransman has not been found guilty of the criminal charges laid against him. In fact initially the NPA, with uncharacteristic speed, declined to prosecute on grounds of “a lack of evidence”. One has to ask what possible additional evidence they were looking for and why not get it then? Surely, for both parties’ sake, this should be tested in a court of law?
A clear message to women
Apart from the formal legal process, I fail to understand what has happened to the internal disciplinary procedures of the ANC. We were told the matter is handled by the Integrity Commission and that a recommendation was made to the NEC. Yet, no formal decision was made as far national spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa or I, am aware, at the time of the Western Cape walkabout.
In the meantime even the ANC Women’s League, which is usually very efficient at making its presence known when things outside the ANC go wrong, have gone deathly silent.
Given the looming election day, one wonders why no one in the governing party thought about the effect the photographs of Fransman and the president laughingly embracing would have on the ANC’s already meagre support in the Western Cape. An opinion poll a few months ago showed that less than three percent of coloured people had any confidence in the president. Maybe until this matter was resolved, Fransman was not the best antidote for that?
Next month is women’s month. As before, we shall be bombarded with statistics showing that sexual harassment, abuse and violence against women have reached epidemic proportions in this country. The ANC government will be quick to highlight all the efforts made to combat it. Sadly, in the end, last week’s actions by the president, Fransman and the ANC, sent a clear message to the women of this country: We really don’t care.
*Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and SA ambassador to Ireland.
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