By Alex Eliseev and Boyd Webb
Forty-five minutes alone in a bedroom with a 21-year-old office assistant has cost African National Congress chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe his job and his membership of the ruling party.
The ANC's national disciplinary committee (NDC) dropped a bombshell on Thursday when it announced that Goniwe had been banished from the party with immediate effect.
The NDC, which met for six hours before making its decision public, said it found Goniwe's defence against charges of using his position |to obtain sexual favours "contradictory, inconsistent and unreliable".
NDC chairperson Kader Asmal said the committee had established there was a period of at least 45 minutes during which Goniwe and his accuser were alone in a bedroom of his Acacia Park, Cape Town, home.
"There was no physical contact. But Goniwe made overtures of a sexual nature. He was guilty of abuse of office as chief whip in this dishonourable way," Asmal said.
The incident, which has led to Goniwe's removal from the ANC's list of MPs and his senior political position, took place after a birthday bash at his home on October 26.
Nomawele Njongo, an administrative assistant in the ANC's parliamentary office, accused Goniwe of trying to get her to sleep with him. She managed to walk out, grab her car keys and get away from his sexual advances, it was revealed on Thursday.
When the allegations first broke, a defiant Goniwe lashed out at them, saying they were "baseless and malicious in the extreme".
But the ANC's national working committee referred the matter to the NDC, and Goniwe was slapped with three charges:
He was found guilty on the first two charges and acquitted on the third. Asmal said their decision was "acutely painful" but was final.
It was exceptionally difficult, he said, because Goniwe held such a senior post and because the allegations had been laid by a young woman who was "just coming into her adulthood".
The former minister of education did not say who would step in to replace Goniwe. The ANC's previous chief whip, Tony Yengeni, is serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to defrauding parliament.
Goniwe is also accused of failing to pay maintenance for his children and for reneging on massive debt.
Members of the NDC met |at the party's Chief Albert Luthuli House headquarters in central Joburg on Thursday.
Asmal said that as a senior public representative and "the face of the ANC", Goniwe was subject to heavier responsibility. He had "enormous power and authority", the NDC said, and his victim - a junior member - was "vulnerable".
Njongo had impressed the NDC heavyweights with her "credible" evidence.
Njongo's Eastern Cape family said on Thursday night they were overjoyed.
"We will come together as a family on Saturday to fully discuss the matter," her brother said.
But for a shell-shocked Goniwe - who maintains his innocence - the future is unclear. He declined to comment on Thursday night, directing queries to colleague Benny Lekalakala, who represented him at the hearing.
"Goniwe feels he was not given an opportunity to present his side of the story and is aggrieved by the decision," Lekalakala said.
The NDC comprised Asmal, Minister of Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Deputy Minister of Safety and Security Susan Shabangu;and ANC MP Luwellyn Landers.
Goniwe can apply for ANC membership after three years. The ruling also means he will not be able to stand for public office - smashing any political ambitions he may have had.
Goniwe's dismissal was a landmark decision and a victory for women's rights, party parliamentary caucus leader Vytjie Mentor said on Thursday.
"I am happy to see the ANC has decided to adhere to its principles and take action against those who abuse the rights of others irrespective of their position," she said.