By Angela Quintal

Western Cape premier Peter Marais has been sued for sexual harassment by New National Party colleague and former MEC Audrey van Zyl.

He received the summons at close of business on Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement, Marais accused the Democratic Alliance of using Van Zyl to try and discredit him, saying it was the second time the party had attempted to do so.

"I emphatically deny all these allegations. Audrey van Zyl is wasting her time and money with this disgraceful action. She and those who are assisting her are opening themselves to defamation actions of millions of rands."

Marais said he had received numerous reports that the DA wanted to use "these false allegations one way or another".

"Over the last week it was reported to me that DP spin-doctors were trying their utmost to sell this story to the press."

Reacting, NNP executive director Renier Schoeman said an allegation of sexual harassment was made against Marais by Van Zyl on March 8, 2002 "after she had been subjected to a disciplinary investigation by the Western Cape NNP".

Van Zyl gave the party a deadline of three days for a reaction to the complaint.

"On the very same day, the National Leader of the NNP, Mr Marthinus van Schalkwyk, appointed a three-person committee to urgently advise him if any evidence could be found to substantiate Dr Van Zyl's allegations.

"The committee did as full and thorough an investigation as was possible on the allegations provided by Dr Van Zyl. No evidence could be found to substantiate the complaint."

The report was handed to Van Schalkwyk who discussed it with the party's national executive.

"The national executive accepted the finding of the report."

Schoeman said not only could no substantiating evidence be found, but four considerations had influenced the result of the investigation.

These included an affidavit by a senior official in the Western Cape administration stating that Van Zyl wanted to blackmail the NNP into stopping the disciplinary investigation against her, and that if it was not stopped she would proceed to make these allegations public.

The person whose name Van Zyl supplied as one who could shed more light on these allegations had actually given a sworn affidavit to the contrary, he said.

"Dr Van Zyl made presentations to the leadership of the party to re-install Mr Marais as a minister in the Western Cape Cabinet when his membership of the Western Cape cabinet was terminated in 2000, and this took place after the alleged actions of sexual harassment, which allegedly took place two years ago during the period of July 1999 to February 2000.

"After the alleged actions of sexual harassment, Dr Van Zyl even continued to visit Mr Marais and his family at home on her own initiative," Schoeman said.

A person who Dr Van Zyl alleged had also been sexually harassed by Marais had made a sworn affidavit that this was definitely not the case, Schoeman said.

"Sexual harassment is a serious allegation and should therefore be dealt with as such. On the other hand, an allegation should be treated carefully to substantiate the truth or not of the allegations."

Van Zyl could not be reached for comment. - Sapa