/ 17 May 2009

Zille’s ‘sex pest’ safety minister

The new Western Cape community safety minister received a R5-million golden handshake from the police in 2003 after four women accused him of victimisation and sexual harassment when he was provincial commissioner of police.

And one of the complainants is now a chief director in his department.

Last week Western Cape Premier Helen Zille appointed Lennit Max to the hottest seat in the Western Cape cabinet. The province has a serious and violent crime rate, 15% higher than the national average.

Interviewed by the Mail & Guardian Max hotly denied sexual harassment in any of the cases.

All four women who laid charges against Max — two of them senior police officers — worked with him. One was his secretary when he was stationed in the Eastern Cape.

In 2002 former deputy provincial police commissioner Zelda Holtzman complained to former Western Cape police minister Leonard Ramatlakane and national police commissioner Jackie Selebi that he had sexually harassed her.

The police have consistently refused to release the findings of their formal investigation into the allegations against Max. A senior officer from the South African Police Service’s Pretoria headquarters, who asked not to be named, said this week that a formal investigation had never been done.

Selebi cleared him on the charges because of lack of evidence.

Holtzman, seen as a strong ANC supporter, left the service in May 2003 after receiving a payout.

She was brought back to the department in January this year as a consultant after doing work for the United Nations and was employed last month in a full-time capacity as chief director corporate services in the community safety department.

Max, who also left the service in 2003 with a golden handshake, remained defiant this week, saying he has ”never harassed any woman my whole life”.

”What happened to me was exactly the same as what happened to Vusi Pikoli. He lost his job because he stood up against the ANC,” he said.

Max claimed that ”the Zelda Holtzman woman … slammed doors and shouted sexual harassment” when he reprimanded her for not doing her job.

”All hell broke loose because she was an ANC cadre appointment,” he said, adding that she was ”insubordinate and never did what I told her to do”.

”I have a clean conscience and I’m scared of nobody because I do what is right and I don’t give a damn about what people write or say about me. I’m a man of integrity. I love women — my own mother is a woman!” Max said.

Asked why the same complaint had been made by four women he said they were all under-performing and delivering substandard work.

”Making allegations of sexual harassment is the quickest and surest way to get rid of a man.

”A lot of innocent men have been a victim of this tactic. It is difficult these days to discipline a woman and it’s very easy to shout harassment,” Max said.

Asked how he would be able to work with Holtzman, he said: ”I don’t know why fate dealt me this difficulty again. There can be no trust between us. But I’m not on a witch-hunt. As long as she does her job, I will do mine.

”I will also have to work with the police commissioner Mwanele Petros, who humiliates people and terrifies them to such an extent that they manipulate the police statistics.

”But I’m not here to chase anybody away — not Petros either. There’s a brutality and arrogance in the police that I must stop and I will. The morale of the police is low. I have to address this.

”My phones are jammed and I’ve received hundreds of calls from policemen telling me how happy they are that I’m now the minister.”

Max said his first love — ”before I discovered women and my Harley Davidson” — had always been the police.

After leaving the force in 2003 he had ”always missed something. Until last week when Helen phoned and asked me whether I will accept the minister’s job. Now I’m back where I belong.

”Zille believes I’m fit. I’ve been a policeman for 27 years and I lead from the front. I’ll be the best police commissioner in the country,” Max said.

Holtzman declined to comment.