June 1, 2002

Western cape premier quits after sex claims

Western Cape premier and New National Party (NNP) provincial leader Peter Marais has resigned following new claims of sexual misconduct that may lead to criminal prosecution. At a press conference in Cape Town on Friday, May 31, NNP national leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that new allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour were being made against Marais "and will be made public shortly, with a possibility of a legal process to follow".

A subdued Marais, who sat through the packed media conference, said he welcomed the prospect of a criminal investigation. "It gives me a chance once and for all to prove my innocence... I thank that lady for taking the route of a criminal charge." He said the new claims involved a woman who had worked in the office of the province's former director-general Dr Niel Barnard. The claim is the latest in a series of sexual harassment allegations against Marais, who is already facing a lawsuit from party colleague Audrey van Zyl. He said mud-slinging in Western Cape politics was reaching new heights: "As premier I feel that it is starting to affect the institution of the premiership negatively, and that this is not in the interest of the province or the country. I have decided to stand back for the time being as premier to give politics a chance to return to acceptable levels of decency. I once again want to assure the public of my innocence."

Van Schalkwyk and Marais had earlier discussed the matter on Thursday, May 30. Van Schalkwyk said that during this conversation, Marais had offered to resign. "This action was prompted because governance and deliverance in the Western Cape are being seriously hampered by the continuing allegations against Mr Marais relating to his personal conduct, despite Mr Marais' denial of these allegations. For us the interests of the people of the Western Cape and of a stable and effective government are the first priority." Van Schalkwyk said this cause of action was not an indication that Marais was regarded as being guilty of any allegation. "It gives him the opportunity to properly prepare and defend himself and to attend to these allegations." Marais was a talented politician and a personal friend, Van Schalkwyk said. Van Schalkwyk said he had also discussed the matter with the NNP's coalition partner in the provincial government, the African National Congress (ANC). Should Mr Marais' name be cleared, he will once again be appointed to a senior position, hopefully as the premier of the Western Cape.

The acting premier will be the most senior NNP Cabinet member, Piet Meyer, who had previously served as acting premier of the province on another occasion. During the break up of the Democratic Alliance, when the former Western Cape premier Gerald Morkel defied the NNP, Piet Meyer stepped in briefly before the job was handed over to Marais. It will be Meyer's second stint as acting premier in the last six months. (MAIL &GUARDIAN)

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