Creepy old guys

Andrew Donaldson writes on Elon Musk's legal troubles, and the Marius Fransman case


MUCH indignation on social media at Tesla founder and all-round brat Elon Musk’s claim that the term “pedo guy” was a common and fairly harmless South African insult, one that simply meant “creepy old guy”, and not, you know, an actual pedophile.

The Daily Maverick’s resident contrarian, Ivo Vegter, for example, was having none of it. “No it isn’t, poes,” he tweeted on Tuesday. 

Few would disagree with Vegter, or find fault with his use of the less ambiguous disparagement. (This, admittedly, is a novel situation for the columnist as many do find themselves sharply at odds with his views on any number of subjects.)

Musk’s assertion forms the basis of his defence in his present legal difficulties: he is being sued for defamation following a Twitter tantrum in which he insulted Vernon Unsworth, one of the scuba divers celebrated for the rescue in July last year of members of a youth club football team from a flooded cave in Thailand. 

It should be borne in mind that Musk was a mere youth himself when he moved to Canada in the late 1980s. A lot has changed in the 30-odd years he has been away, and he may be surprised to learn that “creepy old guy” is no longer the stuff of the innocent schoolyard badinage he remembers as a 17-year-old swot in Pretoria.

Plainly speaking, “creepy old guy” is now way, way more creepy than simply creepy or even horror-show, skin-crawling and hair-raisingly creepy. 

We’re talking more creepy than Boris Johnson by way of Stephen King’s creepy clowns creepy. More creepy than creepy radio talk show listeners outraged that the courts have banned them from beating their own children. More creepy even than Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein at breakfast, or Donald Trump backstage at a beauty pageant.

In short, when we talk of “creepy old guy”, it’s Marius Fransman we have in mind.

Consider the decision this week by the National Prosecuting Authority to drop sexual assault charges against the former chairman of the Western Cape ANC. 

The withdrawal of the case against the disgraced Fransman, in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court, comes at a time when, well, pretty much the whole country is enraged at the appalling spike in violence against women as revealed by the latest official crime figures.

According to NPA national spokeswoman Bulelwa Makeke, there had been, as News24 delicately put it, “informal mediation” between Fransman and Louisa Wynand, the young intern who had accused him of attempting to bother her into having sex while attending the ANC’s birthday celebrations in early January 2016.

Makeke went on to say that the prosecutor dealing with the case was satisfied that Wynand had agreed to the matter being dropped along with the charges of sexual assault and crimen injuria. 

Had there been a serious sexual offence charge with an attached minimum sentence, such as rape, the matter would never have been considered for withdrawal, she added.

This last “condition” appears to have been dutifully tossed out by Makeke to remind the citizenry that the NPA is indeed attuned to the present national mood; its prosecutors are by no means tin-eared oafs who’d only arrived here yesterday without socks on the bus from QwaQwa and they are wholly aware that crime is, like, wrong. Illegal, even.

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Pies & Ales”), there was some discussion about this “informal mediation”. Was this now the latest euphemism in the lexicon of metro law enforcement? (“Your licence has expired, sir. We need informal mediation. There’s a cash machine around the corner.”)

Granted, we are a cynical bunch and we do rush to assume the worst of people at the best of times. Often at the slightest provocation. 

But, in this case, we do recall the determination with which Wynand had sought to bring Fransman to book. Her ordeal certainly has been awful. 

According to the statement she made at Sun City police station, Wynand had travelled from Cape Town by car with Fransman and two of his friends to Kimberley, where they overnighted at a motel before moving on to Rustenburg. 

Due to some elaborately concocted nonsense about booking hassles, the 20-year-old Wynand was told she would have to share a room with Fransman and its only bed, a double. She spent the night fending off the fiftysomething Fransman’s inappropriate advances and reported him to the authorities the next morning.

This is where Wynand’s ordeal really began. 

First, there was some confusion about jurisdictional boundaries: if the alleged bothering by the bearer of the ugliest moustache in the Western Cape took place in the Northern Cape but the matter was subsequently reported in North West province, who then takes on the case?

Answer: nobody.

Much to Wynand’s dismay, prosecutors in both provinces initially declined to pursue the matter. Adding insult to injury, Fransman then embarked on a public campaign in which he portrayed himself as the aggrieved victim of some terrible wrongdoing.

Six weeks after Wynand reported him to the police, and on St Valentine’s Day, oddly enough, Fransman pitched up at an Elsies River church, wife in tow, where he received prayers of support from the congregation to help him “navigate” the allegations against him.

“We must thank the public,” he was reported as saying, “and those religious leaders that stood by me irrespective of understanding the merits of the case; by just being compassionate.”

(Dig, if you will, the utter creepspeak: “…irrespective of understanding the merits of the case…” Meaning: oh, you of supine form, you know full well the extent of my transgressions, and yet you grovel still before me, and long may that be…) 

That said, however, Fransman then accused a rival ANC faction, one led by Boland secretary Jonton Snyman, of luring him into a honey trap to wreck his career. 

And it wasn’t just lissome 20-year-olds in honey traps who were all over his saggy bum. It was the media as well. 

“It is a sad reality,” Fransman said later that year, “that through the consistent media leaks of biased information, I am not being afforded the rights as listed in the Constitution. Just as the complainant has rights, so does the accused, one of which is the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

These leaks of “biased information” were the klutzy WhatsApp messages that Fransman had sent Wynand in the days before their trip north. These were very sad indeed, as there is nothing more pathetic and cringe-inducing than an old fool attempting to impress a woman barely out of her teens that he is some groovy and certainly quite with it uncle who is well up with the “hip lingo” of the youth.

The messages contained a richness of embarrassments: the repeated spelling of “cool” as “kewl”, requests for selfies, the suggestion that Wynand not inform her “bf”, or boyfriend, of her new “job”. Creepiest of all, though, was Fransman’s suggestion that appropriate clothing be worn as the weather would be hot in the north: “Informal gear and sensual.” 

These texts would possibly not have been made public had Wynand not received the following SMS from one Colonel Madotha, the SAPS officer investigating the charges of sexual assault against Fransman, at 8:05am, on May 20, 2016:

“morning, I saw yo message this morning. I gotbthe docket yesterday and I was going to contact you today in any case because i was discussing it with my seniors first. The Director of Public Prosecutions declined to prosecute due to insufficient evidence,meaning Mr Marious cannot be charged and taken to court with the current evidence we have.” (sic)

Mr Marious? I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that, when it came to investigators, Wynand may possibly have suspected that her case had drawn the short straw. 

But, suffice it to say, Fransman’s texts were enough to reinstate the charges. He was duly stripped of his duties as ANC provincial chair and, in November 2016, the party’s national disciplinary committee suspended his membership for five years after it found him guilty of abusing his office in attempting to obtain asexual favours and for making public statements which brought the party into disrepute.

The NDC’s ruling was not welcomed by all party members. Some months earlier, there had been some concern that the troubled Fransman was hitting the campaign trail with Jacob Zuma ahead of the August local elections. 

It was as if Fransman was trying to soak up Accused Number One’s own creepy rape mojo by osmosis, and hoping some of that apparent immunity to prosecution would rub off on him.

It was slow in coming. But it came in the end.

The charges were still in place in December last year, and the NPA was reportedly proceeding with the prosecution. Wynand was ready to face her former employer in court. 

Her spokesman, Gavin Prins, told reporters: “When the incident happened, she had to close down her social media accounts and she basically went into hiding. It was almost like in the political world, she was public enemy number one … This process has strengthened her and she’s ready. The fact that she hasn’t given up on this, just goes to show the strength of this woman.”

Ten months later, the case was dropped. Prins now issued the following brief statement: “We have no comment on the reasons for the decisions taken in court today. On behalf of my client, Wynand, I can confirm that the said matter between herself and Fransman was before the courts yesterday. However, I am not in a position to comment on today's proceedings. I humbly ask that the privacy of my client be respected.”

As for Fransman, well, who knows? It is quite possible that, with formal sex pest charges out of the way, he may succeed in his attempts to be readmitted to the ANC. Opposition parties in the Western Cape hope this will be the case. Having a super-creep for a political opponent does wonders for one’s own image and good standing in the community.