The ANC in the Western Cape is facing a leadership crisis with the suspension of two top officials, Chairperson Marius Fransman and Provincial Secretary Faiez Jacobs. Fransman was “directed” by the party's national office to step down pending the investigation of charges that he sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman. Meanwhile, Provincial Secretary Faiez Jacobs, whose illegal suspension in December was at first overturned on appeal, has also been suspended pending a court appearance on charges of assault. The suspensions indicate that national party officials have had enough of the protracted and debilitating factionalism in the region. By MARIANNE THAMM.
There is no doubt that at least 22 of the 29 members of the ANC Western Cape provincial executive committee will breathe a sigh of relief at the announcement on Thursday that the party’s national office has “directed” Chairperson Marius Fransman to step down pending the investigation of charges that he sexually assaulted a 20-year-old woman who had accompanied him to the ANC’s 104th Anniversary celebrations in Rustenberg earlier this month.
However, emotions regarding the suspension of Provincial Secretary, Faiez Jacobs, pending his February court appearance on a charge of assault, are bound to be mixed as Jacobs enjoys considerable support in the party and region.
The announcement of the two suspensions follows the resignation of ANC Northern Cape chairman, John Block late last year after he was found guilty on charges of fraud and corruption relating to the lease of buildings in the Northern Cape social development department, on behalf of the South African Social Security Agency. The court found that Block, who was once regarded as “untouchable”, had used his political influence to secure tenders and had received kickbacks for his efforts.
On Thursday, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa announced that the decision to suspend Fransman had been taken by the National Working Committee after the matter had been referred by national officials “seized with the supervision of the ANC constitution, having considered the representations from ANC structures.”
“The NWC directed that the chairperson step down and allow the criminal investigation and police to finalise their investigation and the [ANC] integrity commission to present its final report”, said Kodwa.
The 20-year-old woman lodged charges with police in Rustenberg after she claimed that Fransman had offered her a job as a personal assistant two days before the provincial chairperson and two other ANC officials were due to drive to Rustenberg to attend the ANC celebrations.
City Press reported that the woman told police that en route Fransman, who had been driving, opted to sit at the back with the woman where he “started touching her inappropriately”. The entourage later arrived at the Flamingo Hotel in Kimberley where she was forced to share a bed with Fransman who allegedly then sexually assaulted her.
Fransman has denied the charges and has claimed that the woman was a “honeytrap” and that she had been set up by a faction in the party that was opposed to his leadership. He promised that he would soon expose those behind the “conspiracy”.
Earlier ANC Western Cape spokesperson Yonela Diko had said that calls for Fransman to be suspended showed “political immaturity.” However, Daily Maverick reliably learned that at a heated meeting of the provincial executive committee earlier this month to discuss the charges, the majority of those present had spoken out and asked for Fransman to step down pending the investigation.
Members said that the controversy was undermining confidence in the party regionally ahead of crucial elections in a province where the party is in opposition. Five of the party’s top leaders, but not Provincial Secretary Faiez Jacobs who was then still on “suspension”, publicly stated that Fransman had the support of the majority PEC members, when this was clearly not the case.
Jacobs, who narrowly beat Fransman’s ally, Songezo Mjongile, for the powerful position of Regional Secretary last year, was placed on a “precautionary suspension” after an altercation with a colleague at the ANC’s head office in December. The colleague, researcher Wesley Seale, lodged an assault charge with Jacobs lodging a counter charge.
Jacobs’ suspension was overruled last week when the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee of Appeals upheld his appeal against the unprocedural suspension, but he has now been suspended pending his court appearance in February.
On his first day back at the office Jacobs announced that the ANC in the region had important work to do “and we are squarely focussed on the task at hand” and that work should continue to build the party.
“We must fight corruption and put up candidates who will be respected by and who will serve our communities. As the official opposition in the Western Cape and in the City of Cape Town, we must hold the DA to account, we will expose the DA’s failure to live up to their promises, and we will show that the ANC has better policies and will do much better to improve the lives of all the people of our province, regardless of colour, religion or gender,” wrote Jacobs.
Jacobs will not be opposing his suspension and is preparing to face a Disciplinary Committee hearing at the weekend.
The initial united front the party presented after its elective conference last year was soon shattered as tensions between various groupings began to play out. Jacobs is part of the The Unity in Diversity Group which seeks to restore the reputation of the ANC in the region and call on old and trusted members and activists to rejoin and revitalise the party.
Support for the party has steadily declined over the years, with Fransman being viewed as a divisive and autocratic leader. He has also been embroiled in various scandals including an attempt to culturally mobilise the Klopse as well as associating publicly with suspected underworld figures.
Daily Maverick has reliably learned that there had been concerted attempts at undermining Jacobs who immediately embarked on a tour of the province connecting with branches soon after his election as Provincial Secretary.
The altercation with Seale allegedly occurred when the researcher refused to follow instructions with regard to an organisational report. Jacobs alleges that Seale was first to attack while Seale accused Jacobs of assaulting him.
Whatever the outcome, the ANC in the region is currently plagued by these scandals including latest revelations that Truman Prince, ANC Mayor of Beaufort West, had written a letter to the Construction Education Training Authority (CETA), requesting that a company sympathetic to the ANC be awarded a tender.
A week after news of the sexual harassment charges against Fransman had made headlines, Minister of Bathabile Dlamini is President of the ANC Women’s League and Minister of Social Development, penned an open letter addressed to “All male male leadership figures in business, politics and civil society”.
“I am writing this letter foremost, in my capacity as a black woman, and as an activist. I have at times publicly berated other women in power for forgetting about the plight of women not protected by political, economic or social power, and I now want to walk the talk. I am not naive to think that there will not be any risks associated with removing the carpet and bringing these issues to the fore. There will be such risks and I am prepared to face the dangers ahead in rocking the boat of Silence. It is a risk I am prepared to take”, she said.
She said that the notion of male supremacy “continues to sail comfortably through all sections of our society, in business, NGOs and in all political parties. Yes, I am saying all political parties, including my own, the ANC. When leaders of the ANC are complicit or active in the oppression of women in our society, it becomes difficult as a party or as a governing party to implement the policies and laws that we as the ANC have developed and need to implement.”
She concluded that despite her relative proximity to power “I know I remain vulnerable. Think about how vulnerable a young woman with no political or economic currency must be and feel everyday. That is what we must change if we are to have a peaceful and equitable society.”
Many believe this was a thinly-veiled reference to Fransman’s 20-year-old accuser.
Fransman is a seasoned politician who has weathered many storms and is unlikely to roll over meekly however, Kodwa yesterday said there had been no indication that Fransman would “reject” the directive.
The decision on the suspensions of top regional officials by the NWC suggests that national leadership is beginning to understand that the actions and behaviour of top leaders, many of whom, like Block, have managed to escape censure and hold onto positions, no longer works for a party whose electoral dominance is under threat. DM
Photo: Deputy International Relations Minister Marius Fransman at a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday, 11 June 2012. Picture: Department of International Relations, Cooperation/SAPA.