‘Do better’ on sexual violence, political parties are told

A social media campaign is putting political parties on the back foot over their handling of sexual violence allegations against party members.The ANC, Democratic Alliance and Inkatha Freedom Party have been challenged on their handling of cases in which some members were accused of sexual misconduct.

In the cases highlighted by the #NotOurLeaders campaign, at least two ANC councillors have been accused of raping children, an IFP councillor has been charged with sexual assault and the indecent exposure of his genitals to a woman whom he gave a lift, and a DA Member of the Eastern Cape legislature was found guilty of sexual harassment by the party.

Testing commitment

The Women and Democracy Initiative of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights, and gender violence specialist, Lisa Vetten launched the #NotOurLeaders campaign as part of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. They aim to highlight (for 16 days with concrete cases in the public domain) the gap between what politicians say about sexual violence and their political actions in response to it.

In assessing political parties’ true commitment to addressing sexual violence, Sanja Bornman of Lawyers for Human Rights’ Gender Equality programme labelled parties as “hypocritical” because they appoint these men, then fail to act against them or protect them.

The campaign has thus far identified several shortcomings in parties’ responses to such cases.

In the Eastern Cape, DA member of the provincial legislature Edmund van Vuuren was accused of sexually harassing a coworker and found guilty earlier this year. Despite the finding against him, Van Vuuren remained chief whip of the party in the legislature.

According to Vivienne Mentor-Lalu of the Women and Democracy Initiative, this shows the DA may have instituted internal proceedings in this case but, to date, she says, “the actual impact of that process on Van Vuuren, within the party, and in the Eastern Cape Legislature seems to be zero”.

According to Vetten, the party has up until now “dragged its feet on finalising the comprehensive policy on sexual harassment” and this complicates its handling of such cases.

We do try

The DA’s federal executive chairperson James Selfe told ParlyBeat a panel of the party’s Federal Legal Commission recommended that Van Vuuren be removed as the chief whip and that his membership be terminated, but that this termination should be suspended until 2019.

“This sanction was reviewed by the federal executive at its meeting on November 25. The federal executive resolved that this penalty was inappropriately lenient, and substituted a penalty that his membership be terminated.”

Selfe said Van Vuuren had the right to appeal this sanction.

Selfe said the DA had several policies dealing with sexual harassment, but admitted there were none that dealt with incidents involving staff and public representatives. He said a comprehensive policy on sexual harassment was being drafted and it was anticipated that it will be debated and adopted at the federal council meeting in February.

“We do try to walk the talk, but probably could and should do a great deal better,” he conceded.

Van Vuuren, however, was less forthcoming. He told ParlyBeat his lawyer was handling the case.

“But I just want to say I am a man of integrity. I don’t believe in any form of abuse and violence against women. It is something I will never do. I believe I did not wrong anybody.”

On the defence

The IFP, in turn, defended its response to deputy mayor of the AbaQulusi municipality, Mncedisi Maphisa, who was charged with sexual assault.

The party reportedly earlier opted to wait for the legal processes to be finalised before acting.

Sam Waterhouse of the Women and Democracy Initiative argued that criminal law was probably the highest level of accountability, but it was by no means the only one.

“Legally and morally, parties should proceed with internal disciplinary hearings irrespective of a criminal charge being laid and irrespective of the status or outcome of a criminal case.”

National chair of the IFP Youth Brigade, Mkhuleko Hlengwa, told ParlyBeat the party’s political oversight committee was already dealing with the matter. He cautioned against having a “kneejerk reaction” in interpreting the IFP constitution in the public domain and invited the gender activists to discuss the issues with the party.

“As far as I’m concerned, the IFP constitution makes sufficient provision for ensuring that members conduct themselves in a manner that is in keeping with the party’s values. I don’t want to dismiss the seriousness of sexual violence – it is a very important issue, yet I believe we have a constitution that is sufficiently and adequately nuanced in terms of how we deal with such matters.”

Meanwhile, the case of ANC councillor in the Winterveldt, Sipho Maselane, was supposed to be heard on Thursday.

Maselane was charged with multiple charges of rape and robbery. His youngest alleged victim was 14 years old.

Despite having been arrested and charged, Maselane was allowed to stand as ANC councillor in the local government elections in 2016. He became a councillor and the ANC has reportedly not suspended or put him on special leave. The ANC did not respond to requests for comment.

Follow the #NotOurLeaders campaign on Twitter.

This week's articles

LETTER: A personal reflection on the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.

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Parliament’s proposed ‘To Do-list’ for tackling gender-based violence

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