Media release by Premier Alan Winde on the removal of Albert Fritz
Media release by Premier Alan Winde on the removal of Albert Fritz from the provincial cabinet
This morning I informed Albert Fritz of my decision to remove him from the provincial executive cabinet, effective immediately.
I made this decision after receiving a report from Adv Jennifer Williams following the finalisation of her independent investigation to test the veracity of several allegations that were made against him, which led to his suspension last month.
The investigation report was submitted to me on Sunday evening. I have considered the content, and a meeting with Adv Williams and our own legal team took place yesterday afternoon, where we discussed it and I sought further clarity.
Having gone through this 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.
The independent investigation found, on considering the totality of the evidence, that:
- 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 Mr 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.
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.
This is the starkest reminder of the pervasiveness of gender based violence at all levels of our society, and that every single one of us – from President, to Premier, from CEO, to father, mother, brother, sister or friend – have a role to play to end it.
We acknowledge the bravery of the complainants who came forward, who have suffered immense anxiety. It is important that the manner in which these allegations are dealt with does not disempower them.
Background and terms of reference:
After receiving statements from complainants alleging sexual misconduct by Mr Fritz, I immediately initiated an independent, external investigation through the State Attorney’s office. Adv Jennifer Williams was accordingly appointed.
The terms of reference were for Adv Williams to assess the factual correctness of the allegations that were made against Mr Fritz and to produce a report which could inform my decision as Premier regarding the credibility of the allegations. The terms of reference required the process to be fair both to Mr Fritz and to the complainants.
The allegations against Mr Fritz are (a) sexual misconduct (b) alcohol abuse and (c) grooming, which relates to the creation of circumstances which enabled sexual misconduct.
Following the handover to Adv Williams of the information supplied to me by the complainants (in confidence), I had no further engagement with her until the report was delivered to me on Sunday.
The allegations considered in this independent investigation were those made by the four complainants who came to me. Two corroborators had also come forward to me.
Adv Williams notes in her report that in the end she interviewed 18 witnesses in total, including the complainants, collateral witnesses, Mr Fritz, and his own nominated witnesses. During this process, I am informed, the witnesses submitted photographs, emails, videos, text messages and correspondence, which were considered.
Mr Fritz was afforded the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Before doing so, he was provided with a summary of the allegations and a set of general questions arising from the investigation. Mr Fritz provided full responses to the allegations against him and answered all questions.
Mr Fritz denied the allegations.
Williams found that: “The individual complainants’ versions are consistent, inherently probable and corroborated in material aspects. 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.”
Further, “there are numerous common threads that flow through the evidence which constitute a pattern. 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.”
Further, “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.”
Further, “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.”
And, finally “the version put forward by [Mr] Fritz fails to substantively address the specific allegations made and is inherently incongruent with the evidence as a whole.”
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.
Protecting the complainants:
Ensuring that the complainants are protected and supported, after what they have been through, is absolutely non-negotiable to me. I would also not wish to jeopardise any potential civil or criminal matter.
On first being informed of the allegations, I made it clear that I will respect the complainants’ very specific requests for confidentiality, including not sharing the details of their allegations publicly. These details would enable them to be identified even if their names were redacted.
I will continue to respect their wishes, until such stage as they expressly provide me with consent to share their names, and/or the details of their allegations. I urge all interested parties to do the same too. We need to prevent secondary victimisation and to respect the agency that these women have in their lives and to make decisions in regard to what they allege to have occurred. We must also acknowledge the fear and anxiety that they are feeling as a result of making these allegations against a ‘powerful’ person, and we should all do everything we can to support and protect them.
I reiterate that it was an act of bravery for these complainants to come forward and the focus must be on managing the process in a manner that does not undermine their agency. It has not been easy for them, but through the example they are setting, they are empowering other women in our organisation and in society at large to do the same too. This is exactly what is needed if we are to fight against gender based violence – every person must feel empowered to speak out about it, with the knowledge that they will be taken seriously when doing so, and that they will be safe and supported.
The South African Police Services:
I will today meet with the complainants that confided in me and again offer my support should they elect to pursue criminal charges. It is our view that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.
While we welcome that an inquiry has been established by the SAPS, we unfortunately note that it requires a charge by a complainant for the criminal investigation to proceed. The legal advice provided by Adv Williams is that the nature of the allegations is such that a third person cannot lay criminal charges on behalf of the complainant/s, and that the sharing of the personal information and details contained in the report, without the express consent of the complainants, would be disempowering for them and undermine their agency.
Up until now, the complainants have not laid criminal charges, and continue to request complete confidentiality, including with respect to the details of their allegations.
We have referred the complainants to a dedicated NGO which specialises in sexual misconduct matters, so that they receive the support that they need, including advice and support to lay such charges if they so decide.
I will continue to encourage the complainants to trust the SAPS and to enable them to take up a criminal investigation, and I will give them my assurances that I will support them.
I have also confirmed with Adv Williams that she is prepared to meet with the Provincial Police Commissioner to share the information that was provided to her. However, she also requires the consent of each complainant before their specific details can be shared in this way.
Accounting to the Provincial Parliament:
I remain ready and willing to account to any committee of the provincial parliament on this matter and will share any detail that I have been expressly enabled to share through the consent of the complainants.
In order to ensure transparency in this very complex matter, I have also confirmed that Adv Williams will avail herself before any committee of the provincial parliament to answer questions that members may have on her investigation and its findings, within the parameters of the investigation and respecting the confidentiality of the investigation process.
Next steps with respect to the report:
I want to be crystal clear that I will not let this be the end of this matter. In fact, it is just the beginning.
I am determined to use this moment to effect the biggest change I can in the Western Cape Government and in our province, so that I make sure that gender-based violence has nowhere to hide.
I will be providing more details after consulting further with our legal teams, and on further examination of the report and its contents.
Provincial Minister Anroux Marais to continue to act as MEC for Community Safety:
I will now be applying my mind to making an appointment to my provincial cabinet, given the vacancy which now exists. I will keep the media informed on next steps in this respect.
Provincial Minister Anroux Marais continues to act in this position until such stage as a permanent replacement has been made.
I want to thank Minister Marais for the way in which she has stabilised this important ministry and provided the care, leadership and support needed during this unprecedented time.
Summary and conclusion of findings available here: http://www.westerncape.gov.za/assets/departments/premier/summary_and_con...
For media enquiries on this matter:
Office of the Premier