Zizi Kodwa Picture: Phill Magakoe/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Fears of damage to the ANC brand in the build-up to the May 8 elections influenced the ruling party to force its spokespersons to step aside amid sexual assault allegations levelled against them.

On Monday, the party’s national working committee (NWC) took the decision after ANC head of the presidency Zizi Kodwa was accused of drugging and raping a woman, days after the organisation cleared official spokesperson Pule Mabe of sexually harassing his personal assistant.

On Tuesday, ANC Veterans League president and NWC member Snuki Zikalala told Independent Media that the decision on Mabe and Kodwa was taken because criminal charges could be laid against the pair.

Zikalala said the decision was in line with the Mangaung resolution that once a member was implicated in criminal activities, he or she should step down to attend to their woes. “This is in line with ANC policy,” he said.

Zikalala also said the ANC was worried about its credibility and integrity. “If the NWC did not take that stance, we would lose popularity as a leader in society. It is a question of trying to regain the trust of society,” he said.

“Society can’t trust us if we have spokespersons that constitute the face of the ANC and have this baggage with them. We hope that they are cleared, go recuperate and then come back to serve the organisation properly.”

But ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, briefing the media, claimed that Kodwa and Pule voluntarily offered to step aside and the national working committee accepted their request.

“It is good leadership when leaders of the ANC, even when they feel that they are innocent, step aside until the allegations have been tested,” he said.

He said the duo still remained members of the national executive committee, and Dakota Legoete would continue to act as the national spokesperson.

Magashule conceded that damage could have been caused by the sex allegations involving the two, saying “whether these are allegations or facts, there are public perceptions”.

He said that whether perceived or real, such matters affected the base of the ANC.

“That’s why we want to engender confidence in South Africans by making it clear the ANC stands for truth, fairness and the support of women. The ANC is against violence meted out to women, men and children,” Magashule said.

Mabe’s accuser refused to comment, while Kodwa could not be reached.

Mabe said: “I have requested the organisation to allow me to extend my leave so that I can recover fully from the strain this whole episode has subjected me to.”

Calls to Kodwa went unanswered.

The stepping aside of Kodwa and Mabe from their positions was welcomed by the ANC Women’s League and the SACP.

ANCWL secretary-general Meokgo Matuba said they were happy that the ANC leadership had acted on the matter.

“We still maintain that if there are cases to be reported to law enforcement agencies, we will support and believe in those who say they will open cases.

“Those who are accused should respect the rule of law. We believe a person is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law,” Matuba said.

She said that it was important for the alleged victims to lay charges so that the alleged perpetrators could clear their names.

“There must be a process where a person gives their side of the story in a proper institution, in this case a court of law,” Matuba said.

SACP national spokesperson Alex Mashilo said Mabe and Kodwa should be commended for taking the pressure off the ANC by stepping aside voluntarily.

Mashilo reiterated the SACP position that where there were allegations of gender-based violence, organisations throughout society should take disciplinary steps.

“It is crucial that authorities, established in terms of our constitution to deal with such allegations, are informed by the alleged victims, whom we encourage to open cases because that is the right thing to do.

“If a case is not opened, things become difficult,” he said.

Political Bureau