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Sudden suspension of MEC Albert Fritz sparks serious debate and raises more questions

The sudden suspension of Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz late on Sunday has sparked serious debate. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

The sudden suspension of Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz late on Sunday has sparked serious debate. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 25, 2022

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Cape Town - The sudden suspension of Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz late on Sunday has sparked serious debate from civil organisations, politicians and the public after reports of sexual assault allegations emerged.

Sources said the allegations dated back to when he was MEC for Social Development, and that some were levelled against him by young employees.

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Amanda Gouws, a political science professor at the University of Stellenbosch (SU), said it showed that no party was exempt from sexual harassment.

Gouws claimed that "Fritz is clearly a serial harasser. It was a disgrace because he was the MEC for Community Safety. A real wolf in sheep’s clothing."

Soon after the news of his suspension surfaced on Monday, he asked to be excused as the provincial DA leader until the end of February.

"We need to ask why it took the DA so long to suspend him, only when he asked to step aside. I hope that he will face a disciplinary hearing and not just be reinstated again. Why did nobody take these young women’s complaints seriously?" asked Gouws.

DA provincial chairperson Jaco Londt said the provincial executive council had accepted his request, and the deputy leader, MEC Tertuis Simmers, would be the acting leader for the time being.

Londt said: "We view these allegations in a very serious light, and the investigation must be allowed to run its course unhindered."

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Lucinda Evans, the executive director of Philisa Abafazi Bethu (Heal our Women), said she was utterly shocked to learn about the allegations.

"You know, with the state of our country when you hear these things from high-ranking officials, one should not be shocked," said Evans.

She said the question to ask Winde was: "What are you going to do if these allegations turn out to be what we are thinking, and not speculating it possibly could be?

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"What are you going to do to ensure that the necessity is being done, to ensure there is protection for all, including the victims," Evans said.

She has said she had been called by numerous people, "and I want to make this statement in saying that if it is alleged that the misconduct is of a sexual nature and there are victims, then my first and foremost question is, could we expect as the women of the Western Cape that there would be cases opened, and would the Western Cape government then support the victims?"

Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais as the acting MEC for Community Safety.

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Winde said: “I know there have been many questions raised around the nature of the allegations that resulted in the suspension of Fritz. It is always my preference to be open and transparent with residents of the province and the media.”

He said that in this case, however, noting specific requests by the complainants for confidentiality, the seriousness of the allegations made and the rights of all parties to a fair and unprejudiced investigation into the veracity of the claims made, he may not do so at this stage.

"I assure you that I am treating this matter with the seriousness it deserves, and I will provide further updates as soon as I am able to," Winde said.

The ANC in the legislature called on the standing committee on community safety to convene an urgent meeting, as well as to summon Winde to appear before it to explain Fritz’s suspension.

In a letter dispatched to committee chairperson Regan Allen on Monday, the ANC spokesperson on Community Safety, Mesuli Kama, said serious allegations had been levelled against the suspended MEC.

He wrote that it would be in the best interests of the committee to get the full details and chart a way forward.

“I would like to call on you to also invite the premier to appear before the committee. Given the urgency of this matter, it would be best for the committee to convene before the end of this week,” said Kama.

He added in his letter that it would be important for the standing committee to know the details of the allegations against Fritz, and when Premier Alan Winde first became aware of them.

Allen acknowledged the letter.

"I have received the letter from Kama regarding the matter, and have indicated to him that I have written to the premier to provide the committee with a report on measures taken to ensure that the work of the department can continue, and whether there will be an acting MEC during this time."

He said it was important that the independent investigation be allowed to run its course, and that the confidentiality and privacy of those who made the allegations was not compromised.

GOOD party secretary-general Brett Herron said Fritz was the fourth member of Winde’s “cabinet of integrity” whose integrity had been brought into question.

Herron said Fritz replaced Bonginkosi Madikizela as the DA Western Cape leader when Madikizela resigned as an MEC and provincial leader after being exposed for lying about his academic qualifications.

He said Madikizela was also found by the public protector to have breached the executive code of ethics after lying in the legislature.

He said the public protector had also made findings about ethical breaches against Winde himself, and MEC Anton Bredell (twice).

"The allegations now levelled against Fritz have been circulating in political circles for a few years," he said.

Herron said it was rumoured that the allegations had been brought to the surface, now, in order to create a space in the Western Cape cabinet for former mayor Dan Plato.

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