This ‘national ob­ses­sion’ with Thuli Madon­sela – now that her term has ended – can’t be do­ing new Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane any favours as she tries to find her bear­ings, writes

CityPress - - Voices - Bhun­gani Ka Mzolo

When I read Mondli Makhanya’s piece with the scream­ing head­line, “Drop ob­ses­sion with Madon­sela” (City Press, Septem­ber 12), I thought some­one else – be­sides me – had fi­nally re­alised that our ob­ses­sion with for­mer pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela has to end at some point.

My take was, and still is, that this national ob­ses­sion with Madon­sela – now that her term has ended – can’t be do­ing the new Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor, Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane, any favours as she tries to find her bear­ings.

I in­wardly wished that the fo­cus on Madon­sela – how­ever jus­ti­fied it may be fol­low­ing what many con­sider her out­stand­ing per­for­mance – would not over­shadow the work that Mkhwe­bane now faces, in­clud­ing the re­ported more than 200 out­stand­ing cases left be­hind by the out­go­ing pub­lic pro­tec­tor.

I was sur­prised by Makhanya’s take on this is­sue when he un­fairly ac­cused Mkhwe­bane for ob­sess­ing with Madon­sela, “mak­ing judge­men­tal state­ments on Madon­sela’s legacy”. Se­ri­ously?

What is wrong with Mkhwe­bane say­ing she found the staff morale low when she took over from Madon­sela? What is wrong with the work­ers feel­ing side­lined and un­ap­pre­ci­ated be­cause they did not share Madon­sela’s spot­light? Come to think of it, what is wrong with Mkhwe­bane want­ing to be seen as dis­tinct from Madon­sela?

For­mer pres­i­dent Nelson Man­dela was “one of those larger-than-life lead­ers who will never leave the pub­lic con­scious­ness”, to bor­row Makhanya’s own words, but no one blamed his suc­ces­sor for want­ing to be his own man, dis­tinct from Madiba.

I hold no brief for Mkhwe­bane and my mo­ti­va­tion for this re­join­der is in the in­ter­est of adding bal­ance to the pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive that has el­e­vated Madon­sela to such a high pedestal that even she might find it some­what em­bar­rass­ing, de­spite the ex­cel­lent work she has done.

Most of the things Mkhwe­bane has said so far were when she was re­spond­ing to ques­tions in­side Par­lia­ment in front of the mul­ti­party port­fo­lio com­mit­tee that rec­om­mended her ap­point­ment. In that sense, you could say she was re­port­ing to her “bosses.”

Among other things, she told the com­mit­tee that she did not in­tend to make use of con­sul­tants as much as the pre­vi­ous pub­lic pro­tec­tor did. Se­condly, we heard she was not keen to use funds from out­side agen­cies. Thirdly, Mkhwe­bane also stated that, much as she was go­ing to fo­cus on “high-pro­file cases”, she did not want to marginalise the man on the street, so to speak.

It would seem her de­trac­tors found all her in­ten­tions prob­lem­atic for some rea­son. She may have threat­ened cer­tain vested in­ter­ests with those pro­nounce­ments, but that would be spec­u­la­tion on my part.

How­ever, it does ap­pear her de­trac­tors got tied up in all kinds of knots when they heard her say that she did not seek to be con­fronta­tional or hos­tile to govern­ment lead­ers.

Her crit­ics im­me­di­ately branded her a lap­dog and pos­si­bly a sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

As ev­ery­body knows by now, in the pre­vail­ing at­mos­phere in which rub­bish­ing Zuma has be­come a national pas­time, any hint that you sup­port Zuma or agree with what he says is a car­di­nal of­fence.

As a na­tion we have ar­rived at a stage where those who are ap­pointed to pub­lic of­fice must choose whether they are for or against Zuma. Those who are for Zuma or on the mid­dle ground will see every lit­tle bit of their pri­vate life smeared in all tabloids for all to see. They will be hounded, bashed, chewed and thrown away in the dust­bin of his­tory.

In­ci­den­tally, and quite rightly, there are many South Africans, in­clud­ing yours truly, who still be­lieve that Madon­sela could have achieved what she had set out to achieve for her­self and the Of­fice of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor with­out the an­i­mos­ity that was gen­er­ated be­tween her and the of­fice she oc­cu­pied.

There is noth­ing what­so­ever wrong if Mkhwe­bane dis­tances her­self and her of­fice from that an­i­mos­ity.

We should not ex­pect Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Mkhwe­bane to fol­low the same ap­proach that Madon­sela chose to han­dle is­sues that con­fronted her.

Let us give Mkhwe­bane space to make her mark as she goes about do­ing her job of pro­tect­ing the pub­lic, as dic­tated by the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Ka Mzolo is a so­cial-me­dia com­men­ta­tor

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