The DA’s Lennit Max is swapping the provincial legislature for a post advising ANC Minister Bheki Cele – but insists he is still a DA member.
At a press conference in Cape Town, Max was keen to keep the focus on his desire to make a contribution to national policing, but journalists wanted answers as to how the DA representative would manage this apparent shift in political allegiance.
“I am still a member of the DA,” Max said. “I did not resign (as a DA member), because that was not a requirement. (Police Minister) Bheki Cele was not interested in my political affiliations… As I speak to you, I am a fully-fledged member of the Democratic Alliance.”
A little later, he reiterated: “I am not a member of the ANC… yet.”
Max clarified that he has, however, resigned from his positions as a DA MPL and chair of the cultural affairs and sport committee in the provincial legislature. He said that he submitted his resignation on 30 June.
Western Cape provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela’s spokesperson Odette Cason confirmed to Daily Maverick that Max had indeed sent his resignation letter on this date.
Whether Max genuinely wishes to remain as a DA member is open to question. He used a statement on the matter to criticise DA leaders who, he claims, did not recognise the contribution he could make to provincial policing.
“The decision to join national government was also borne from my frustrations for not being allowed to use my skills and expertise to curb crime in the Western Cape,” Max stated.
“I as a trained police officer could no longer sit by idle and supervising the department of cultural affairs and sport by visiting archives, libraries and watching opera whilst our women and children are slaughtered by gangsters on the Cape Flats. I approached the leadership, offered my skills, but it was declined by Helen Zille, Mmusi Maimane and James Selfe. This not only frustrated, but angered me.”
By contrast, Max says, it took only one meeting with Cele to convince the police minister of his “vision in the fight against crime”.
Max was a SAPS employee for 27 years, including a stint as Western Cape police commissioner.
But his career has been dogged by accusations of sexual harassment, and he was reportedly given a “golden handshake” of R5-million from the police in 2003 after four women alleged sexual harassment and victimisation by him. Max has consistently denied the claims, saying they were made by under-performing female employees. In 2010 he was again accused of sexual harassment by a former police clerk.
When Daily Maverick asked Max about this history in October 2017, Max responded: “I have never been accused of sexual harassment.”
His stated frustration with the DA may also owe something to the fact that Max has unsuccessfully challenged for the DA Western Cape leadership position four times, most recently in 2017. On the last occasion, he lost the leadership post to Bonginkosi Madikizela after a campaign battle marred by public attacks.
After news of Max’s new appointment broke, it did not take long for speculation to flourish that he had been offered his post as special adviser to Cele at least partly as an ANC ploy to further embarrass the DA.
The ANC in the Western Cape was quick off the mark to capitalise on events, announcing a press conference on 3 July to “discuss the deeper implications of former DA’s Member of the Provincial Legislature Lennit Max’s various accusations against the Democratic Alliance which have frustrated him out of his job”.
But not everyone agrees that politics are at play. Former Cope deputy leader Mbhazima Shilowa tweeted: “Those of you who think Minister Cele bought Lennit with the position of being Special Adviser are just being silly. Max is not required to resign from the DA. Minister is just utilising his talent as a former police chief.”
This is certainly the line that Max is taking too, suggesting that his background means he is uniquely capable of making inroads in the fight against gangsterism and rural crime. Max framed the fact that he offered his services to national government as stemming from his desire to answer President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call of Thuma Mina – send me.
The DA had not yet responded to Daily Maverick’s request for comment by deadline. But the question of whether Max will retain his DA membership – particularly after his public criticism of DA leaders – may present another headache for the party.
Max joked that the DA could invoke its “Patricia clause” to strip him of his membership, in reference to the ongoing legal battle over Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s status in the party. Another protracted fight of this nature, however, is surely the last thing the DA would want at this time.
Max also pointed out that ANC member Vusi Pikoli was employed by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille as the provincial police ombudsman in 2015 without any difficulties resulting from his party membership in an opposition-governed province.
“The focus should be on the administration of government,” he said.
Despite these ostensibly worthy sentiments, it’s hard to believe that the DA will not see Max’s move as a form of provocation. But even if so, it would be advisable for the party not to take the bait at this time.
A subsequent statement issued by the DA’s Madikizela said that the party had taken note of Max’s resignation and “we wish him well in his new role”.
Madikizela also stated, however, that Max “cannot act as the special advisor to the ANC minister of police and be a DA member”.
By way of evidence, Madikizela pointed to Max’s remark during his press conference that he was not an ANC member “yet”. The DA Western Cape leader added that Max’s repeated references to Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina slogan “came across as his way of campaigning for the ANC”.
In short, stated Madikizela, “Lennit Max seemed to be speaking as an ANC member and not a DA member”.
The difference of opinion between the DA and Max on the topic of his membership does not appear to have any real-world implications, unlike in the De Lille case, because Max has already resigned from his posts in the DA. DM
This article was updated on Monday 2 July at 16h05 to reflect the DA’s statement on the matter.