Behind him to the Max

Western Cape community safety minister Lennit Max has again proved an embarrassment to the DA following fresh complaints of sexual harassment against him. Glynnis Underhill quizzed the province’s premier, Helen Zille

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You’ve attacked President Jacob Zuma’s extramarital affairs and love child as an abuse of power. Given the repeated allegations of sexual misconduct against Lennit Max, first as Western Cape police commissioner and now as a provincial minister, why is his case “a private affair”?
HZ: I’ve never, at any stage, said that allegations of sexual harassment against Lennit Max are a “private affair”.
Reports of two allegations of harassment against him surfaced while he was police commissioner; one resulted in a hearing that was dismissed for lack of evidence. I’ve said that consensual sex between consenting adults in private is not a public matter unless it has public consequences. Public figures must expect their private lives to come under scrutiny.

Given the past allegations against him, why did you appoint him to your cabinet? Was it because you felt you had too many white ministers?
No. The allegation was dismissed after due process in a departmental hearing. No other formal case was brought relating to sexual harassment, as far as I’m aware.

It’s said that you’ve had disagreements with Max and he was an unlikely appointment to your cabinet. Is this true?
I’ve had disagreements with several of my colleagues in the past. This is no big deal—it’s what happens in politics when there are strongly divergent opinions about a course of action. I don’t appoint people to posts on the basis of friendship, so our previous disagreements were not a factor.

What will happen to Max if former police station clerk Belinda Petersen can prove her claim that she had sex with him in exchange for legal advice during her police disciplinary hearing?
I’ve spoken to Max about Ms Petersen’s allegations and he’s denied them categorically.

He says the opposite is true: after he agreed to represent her in the case, she made advances to him, and he then terminated his offer of assistance. He told me that she has a history of making advances to men to manipulate the situation to her advantage, something that another police colleague has also claimed. If Ms Petersen can prove that her version is true, Max will have lied to me, and it will terminate the trust relationship essential between cabinet colleagues. I will then take commensurate action.

Considering Max’s history, could you seriously consider him a suitable replacement for Theuns Botha as the DA’s provincial leader?
Much of the media controversy arises out of the fierce contest, under way at present, for leadership of the province. That’s why various allegations must be checked with specific care to get to the facts. There are all sorts of agendas at play here.

Max’s spokesperson, Julian Jansen, claims he was dismissed to cover up Max’s sexual harassment of two women in his office. You have interviewed the women. What did they say?
They categorically deny that they were harassed or that they had an improper relationship with Max.

Jansen has a good track record as a teacher for 18 years and as a journalist. Do you believe Max had reason to fire him?
Max said Jansen didn’t measure up in the job and was occasionally derelict in his duties. Max decided to deal with the matter through a disciplinary procedure; Jansen then went to the media with various accounts of sexual relationships in the office. I called in the alleged participants and they vehemently deny this.

You have reintroduced a sexual harassment policy which had fallen into disuse. Who in your office champions the fight to rid provincial government of harassment?
Thandi Mlambo.

Zelda Holtzman, who accused Max of harassment when he was police commissioner, has been appointed a chief director in Max’s department. Can they work together again?
I haven’t had any reports of friction between them.

Max claims he’s innocent of all claims against him. Do you believe him?
I’ve asked him these questions directly and he has given me categorical answers. The woman making the most sensational claims in the media has never laid a charge or a complaint through any official channels. If it turns out he’s lying, it’ll be the end of the road.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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