LET MKHWEBANE DO THINGS HER WAY
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
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