Democratic Alliance fails to develop a sexual harassment policy for their public representatives

In May 2017 a 26-year old worker in the DA offices laid a sexual harassment complaint against Edmund van Vuuren, the DA’s Chief Whip in the Eastern Cape Legislature.


CASE 3: DA Chief Whip in the Eastern Cape Legislature – Edmund van Vuuren  

In May 2017 a 26-year old worker in the DA offices laid a sexual harassment complaint against Edmund van Vuuren, the DA’s Chief Whip in the Eastern Cape Legislature. During a telephone call van Vuuren made a number of inappropriate comments to the recently-married woman, including offering to stand in for her husband “if necessary.”   In September 2017 the internal commission appointed by the DA to investigate the matter found van Vuuren guilty of sexual harassment and recommended his removal from the position of Chief Whip, as well as termination of his membership of the party – suspended on condition that he committed no similar offences in future. Van Vuuren was not suspended during the course of the investigation and it is unclear if the recommendation that he be removed from the chief whip position has been implemented by the DA. Van Vuuren continues to hold various senior positions in the DA in the Eastern Cape and remains an MPL in the EC Legislature.

The commission tasked with hearing the matter also stated that: “It was clear from the lead evidence that there had been a few incidents of sexual harassment nature (sic) at the offices of the DA Eastern Cape legislature previously. It seems that none of these complaints received due attention and the matter above was seen as the ’last straw’ and that the female staff wanted to ensure that this matter was not swept under the carpet as with previous matters.” There is no indication of any further investigation or action on the other incidents that the commission refers to.

 ‘Although the DA did institute internal proceedings in this particular instance, to date, the actual impact of that process on Van Vuuren, within the party, and in the EC legislature seems to be zero’. Says Vivienne Mentor-Lalu from the Women and Democracy Initiative at UWC’s Dullah Omar Institute.

Not learning from previous incidents of sexual harassment

“Little wonder that the other complaints went nowhere,” said Lisa Vetten. “The DA has no policy on sexual harassment of their staff by its members, which complicated the commission’s handling of the van Vuuren matter. In the absence of a policy, the commission had to turn to the Labour Relations Act and its Code of Good Practice on the handling of sexual harassment incidents.”

 The DA has dragged its feet on finalising the comprehensive policy on sexual harassment. The inadequacy of the DA’s response to the problem of sexual harassment was already made evident in 2015. In June of that year MP Archie Figlan was sanctioned for sexually harassing a DA staffer during a protest prior to President Zuma’s State of the Nation address. While Figlan’s party membership was terminated, like van Vuuren’s, this sanction was suspended on condition that he donate R12 000 to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders (NICRO), as well as perform two hours of community service at NICRO every month for a year. He could not be considered for any positions in the party for five years and also had to write a letter to the complainant requesting her forgiveness. Figlan remains a DA member.

At the time, DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe conceded that the party needed to update its approach to sexual harassment by its public representatives. Some two years later, when the complaint was laid against van Vuuren, they had still not gotten round to doing so.

The DA must act

  • The #NotOurLeaders campaign is calling on the DA to speedily finalise a comprehensive policy addressing sexual harassment by their members. This policy must set out appropriate sanctions for such conduct, including the circumstances under which staff must be suspended.   
  • The DA must report on whether or not it followed the recommendations of the commission to undertake further investigation into the offices of the DA Eastern Cape legislature.
  • The DA must explain why Van Vuuren continues to hold senior positions in the ECPL in spite of the findings against him.

For comment contact:

Lisa Vetten, gender violence specialist, 082 822 6725

Vivienne Mentor-Lalu, Women and Democracy Initiative, Dullah Omar Institute, 082 494 0788


About the #NotOurLeaders campaign

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), and gender violence specialist, Lisa Vetten, turn the spotlight on political representatives accused of sexual violence and the practices that protect and enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. By contrasting the range of incidents reported with parties’ inconsistent – even non-existent – responses, the campaign aims to demonstrate the chasm between political-speak and political actions on sexual violence.

The campaign emphasises the need for strong political leadership by all political parties and representatives in tackling the pervasive problem of sexual violence in South Africa.