South Africa

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Albert Fritz deemed ‘not fit and proper’, fired from provincial cabinet after sexual misconduct probe 

Illustrative image//Western cape Premier Alan Winde (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach) and Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

‘It is clear to me that Mr Fritz is not a fit and proper person to hold any position in my executive council,” said Western Cape premier Alan Winde about Albert Fritz, after firing him from his provincial cabinet following an investigation into sexual misconduct.

On Tuesday, 1 March, the premier made the announcement after informing Fritz of his decision. 

Winde suspended Fritz in January after complainants approached him. Winde did not immediately reveal the nature of the complaints against Fritz, a long-standing member of the Western Cape government. Slowly, reports emerged of sexual misconduct, which were then confirmed by the premier. 

Winde then asked the State Attorney to conduct an independent investigation into the complaints, with Advocate Jennifer Williams tasked with the matter.

Fritz also stepped down as DA Western Cape interim provincial leader. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Albert Fritz steps down as Western Cape DA leader amid misconduct investigation

Winde said he received the investigation report from Williams on Sunday evening and met her and his legal team on Monday afternoon “where we discussed it and I sought further clarity”. In his statement, Winde said that after going through the report carefully, “it is clear to me that Mr Fritz is not a fit and proper person to hold any position in my executive council. He has therefore been removed, in line with the powers vested in me by the Constitution.” 

According to Winde, the independent investigation found:

  • There is sufficient credibility in the allegations of sexual misconduct;
  • There is sufficient credibility in the allegations of alcohol abuse; and
  • There is sufficient evidence of Fritz “creating an environment that is conducive to sexual harassment, or alternatively, taking advantage of young women sexually.

“I am extremely angry at what appears to be verifiable incidences of serious sexual misconduct by him, in circumstances which in and of themselves were inappropriate,” said Winde, adding: “That it is by someone who has been tasked to protect our youth and our communities, is to me unfathomable. 

“It is a shocking violation of his oath of office and the principles of our constitutional democracy.” 

Speaking about the investigation via the State Attorney’s office, Winde said that advocate Williams interviewed 18 witnesses, including complainants, collateral witnesses, Fritz and his own witnesses. “During this process, I am informed, the witnesses submitted photographs, emails, videos, text messages and correspondence, which were considered.” 

Fritz was given a chance to respond to the allegations and provided full responses to the allegations against him. “Mr Fritz denied the allegations,” said Winde. 

See the executive summary and conclusions of the report here:

The conclusions Williams include: 

  • Individual complainants’ versions were consistent, probable and corroborated. “While the individual stories differ, and this is a factor which militates against a conspiracy, there are common features to the versions of the identified complainants. They are also consistent with the evidence as a whole”;
  •  “The evidence indicates a sustained culture of the sexual objectivation of women who work in the ministry, underpinned by an indisputable power imbalance. The power differential favours [Mr] Fritz due to his age, position of authority, political connections and gender. [He] appears to be oblivious to the power dynamics at play in his interactions with young female interns/staff”;
  • “The selection of ‘victims’, the building of trust, the normalising of inappropriate sexually charged interactions in a work-related context, the taking of photographs of the young women and complimenting them on their appearance, the sexual comments, the unpredictable temper outbursts, and public humiliation of the ‘victims’ all have the hallmark of grooming”; and
  • “The availability of alcohol, the pressure [to] drink and removing young women from their comfort zone further enabled [Mr] Fritz’s opportunities for sexual misconduct. It would seem that rather than protecting vulnerable young women from that risk, they were purposely placed in these inappropriate situations and exploited.”

Winde stated: “It is of deep concern to me that Mr Fritz refused to accept any inappropriate conduct on his part and attempted, in this investigation, to impugn the credibility of the complainants as witnesses through the tactic of ‘victim’-blaming.” 

The premier confirmed that MEC for cultural affairs and sport Anroux Marais would continue to act as community safety MEC until a permanent replacement is found.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, DA Federal Council chair Helen Zille said that Fritz had been given 24 hours “to supply reasons as to why he should not be suspended from caucus and party activities and the matter has been referred to the DA’s Federal Legal Commission”. She said that now that the independent report had been concluded, “the DA can take the necessary action”.

Contacted for comment, Fritz said he was due to release a statement shortly. DM

This is a developing story and will be updated

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