Following his suspension as member of the executive council (MEC) for community safety in the Western Cape, Albert Fritz has voluntarily stepped down as interim head of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the province, adding to the party’s leadership woes in the province after the exit of Bonginkosi Madikizela last year.
Fritz was suspended on Sunday and consequently requested to step down from his position as Western Cape provincial leader “until the completion of the investigation into allegations levelled against him”, as announced by DA Western Cape chairperson Jaco Londt on Monday.
Fritz’s conduct reportedly relates to alleged sexual harassment, but the DA has not yet publicly confirmed it.
The incident has dented the image of the party and could lead to instability in any case, according to Dr Zwelinzima Ndevu from the school of public leadership at Stellenbosch University.
“In cases of this nature, parties — Fritz, the DA and victim/s — have different opinions on how the issue should be handled and the level of fair[ness] in the outcomes,” Ndevu said. “This is another dynamic that could add to the challenges the party is experiencing.”
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has announced a “full investigation which must proceed on an unhindered basis” on the allegation against Fritz. In an unusually terse statement, Winde said Fritz had offered his “full cooperation”.
The Good Party’s Brett Herron has pounced on Winde’s statement, describing it as “cryptic” and “lacking detail”.
“The premier owes it to the people of the Western Cape to explain the announcement and to provide some basis for the suspension,” Herron said, adding that Winde “should clarify whether the allegations relate to an issue of Fritz’s conduct in government or matters outside of government and of a personal nature”.
In a second statement defending the first one, Winde said it was always his preference to be open and transparent with residents of the province and the media, adding: “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, I may not do so at this stage.”
Good — which won 38 seats, or 4.31% support, in last year’s local government elections in the Western Cape — claims the allegations against Fritz, have been “circulating in political circles for a few years” now. Winde has spoken out against opposition parties in the province politicising the issue.
“I will not play politics with the wellbeing of people and would like to urge anyone who views this matter as a political football to show restraint, especially in consideration of the requests made by the complainants and the rights of all to a fair process,” he said.
Fritz last year replaced Madikizela, who also left under controversial circumstances when it became public he misrepresented his academic qualifications.
Dr Ndevu also raised issues of ethics and leadership integrity in the manner in which the DA announced Fritz’s suspension.
“The factor that the premier has not given [detailed] reasons for his decision to suspend the MEC has also left a bitter taste in some people, especially if the allegations of sexual harassment are true because this could mean that he is trying to protect the MEC,” he added.
But political analyst Daniel Silke argued that while the incident was an embarrassment for the Western Cape government, Fritz and Madikizela had a “relatively low profile”, meaning low public interest in general. The DA’s leadership is centred around Winde and Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, he said.
“I don’t think this is an issue that’s really going to unsettle voters at all. Both Good and the ANC will try to derive some political capital. But so long as the DA deals with it in a relatively efficient manner, I don’t think that will have a serious impact,” Silke added.
With Fritz indefinitely suspended, the province’s MEC for cultural affairs and sport Anroux Marais will be acting MEC of community safety, while the deputy Western Cape leader Tertius Simmers wil act as the new interim provincial leader.