In May, Lennit Max had a meeting with Police Minister Bheki Cele to discuss a document containing some ideas about police strategy that he had drawn up. Then he forgot about it.
Just before 23:00 last Wednesday, when he and his wife Farouz were in bed – “We were just tucking in!” – he received Cele’s call.
“He said, ‘Come and join me,’” Max says on Friday. “That’s what he said.”
Cele told him, as Cele would, that “all that stuff you told me about, you can do it yourself”.
“I was totally astounded. I thought it was a joke.”
The Maxes didn’t sleep much that night.
“If we slept for an hour, it was a lot,” he says.
A storm around his appointment has predictably followed.
Max (56), a member of the Western Cape provincial legislature, has been frustrated for two years as the chairperson for arts, culture and sport. He says he was sidelined after asking uncomfortable and insistent questions of the political leadership when he was the chairperson for the public works portfolio committee, and he went from overseeing a department with a budget of billions to one with a budget of less than R800m.
Max, the most senior member of the legislature, was replaced by one of the most junior, he says, and had to spend his time going to the theatre and “watching opera”.
With a year to go of public service – he had already communicated to his political bosses that he would not be available for re-election next year – Max has decided that his last year should be one in which he will add the most value. The one-time safety and security MEC, who spent four years as provincial police commissioner, who is an admitted advocate with a master’s degree and who became a policeman when he was 18 years old, was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It’s my field man, yoh! I have had a dream about this for years. There’s no stopping me now. I’m going to live my life! It’s my calling, not my job,” he says.
Now he’s waiting for the DA to try to kick him out using the so-called De Lille clause: the rule the party recently unsuccessfully relied on to expel the Cape Town mayor from the party. This after he said in an interview this week that he was “not a member of the ANC – yet”, and repeated the words he said to Cele when he accepted the position, “Thuma mina”, which is now an ANC-appropriated slogan.
Narrowly defeated last year by Bonginkosi Madikizela in the race to become Western Cape provincial DA leader in a contest he insists was “rigged” and during which ballot papers were “shredded”, Max’s bitterness is audible on the phone.
Does he care if the party tries to expel him?
“I won’t say I don’t care. I will be disappointed. I might challenge it as well because they can’t embark on illegal challenges. They can’t just revoke my membership,” he says.
Aside from all the political drama surrounding his appointment, Max has his work cut out for him.
He is travelling to Gauteng this week for a meeting with the national police leadership for a detailed briefing about crime trends and problems facing the police in the country.
Although he is well acquainted with the Western Cape’s ills, he admits his knowledge of problems besetting the rest of the country is not quite as comprehensive.
When asked what he believes are the country’s top five crime priorities, he names gangs, drugs, crimes such as cash-in-transit heists and ATM bombings, armed robbery, and trio crimes: car hijacking, business robbery and house robbery, which, according to national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole, are the crimes ordinary South Africans fear the most.
Max understands this. His own home in Cape Town is a fortress, surrounded by electric fencing, watched by CCTV cameras and fitted with a comprehensive alarm system.
But what of crimes such as rape and domestic violence?
For these, Max says, social crime prevention plans have to be activated, which he says involve community policing forums, neighbourhood watches and “education, education, education”.
He has already hit the ground running – spending time on the phone with Sitole and meeting the Western Cape provincial police leadership. This week, he will be getting to grips with the crime situation in the rest of the country.
Max says he drew up the police strategy plan for Cele because “I never switch off from policing – I will even die with thoughts of policing on my mind”.
And as thrilled as he is about his new job, Farouz, whom he married 27 years ago “when I was a captain”, is just as delighted.
“She knows. She was equally frustrated about how I was treated,” he says.
“When I got the call from Minister Cele, she said: ‘Now I will get my husband back. He is going to be himself again.’”