Prove us wrong, Busi

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

The na­tion­wide ap­plause dur­ing Busi Mkhwe­bane’s in­ter­view for the post of Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor was deafen­ing. Apart from the odd ob­jec­tor here and there, South Africans raved about the un­known can­di­date who wanted to step into Thuli Madon­sela’s shoes. Her sleek per­for­mance set the Twit­ter­verse ablaze with mes­sages of ap­proval.

“Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane, you’re hired.” “Clear, straight-to-the-point an­swers. No beat­ing around the bush. I like Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane.” “Give Bu­sisiwe the job.” “I’m root­ing for Bu­sisiwe, I think she is an all-rounder.” “Mkhwe­bane for Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor ... she knows her story.” “What a strong pitch by Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane.” “I like Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane. She could be the one.” “Go, lady!”

These were some of the sen­ti­ments ex­pressed as she calmly and con­fi­dently fielded ques­tions from a mul­ti­party com­mit­tee. The DA cut a lonely fig­ure of dis­so­nance when it re­fused to en­dorse her, ow­ing to her al­leged past as a spy. They were just spoil­sports, we all thought.

The Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) came to Mkhwe­bane’s de­fence, plead­ing that “we should give her a chance”.

“She is in­her­it­ing an in­sti­tu­tion, and even if she made com­mit­ments to Zuma and friends that she will do work for them ... she is go­ing to be ex­posed ... she is go­ing to be the first Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor not to fin­ish her term of of­fice if she en­gages in any shenani­gans,” EFF leader Julius Malema said at the time.

That was nine months ago. With six years and three months left on her con­sti­tu­tion­ally des­ig­nated seven-year term, it ap­pears Malema’s threat may be­come a re­al­ity. The na­tion has turned against her, with the only sup­port for her com­ing from the Gupta army and as­so­ci­ated filthy types.

Malema has a done a 180-de­gree turn, la­belling her “a mis­take” that he re­grets hav­ing en­dorsed.

“She is a Gupta pup­pet straight from the Gup­tas’ kitchen … once a spy, al­ways a spy. She’s prov­ing with­out fail that we were wrong, please do not call her Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor.”

Malema went on record to say that he had been told “by re­li­able spooks that she is a spy”.

Mkhwe­bane has de­nied be­ing an agent and in Fe­bru­ary this year, she said she was con­sid­er­ing su­ing the DA be­cause their claim “im­pacts on the in­tegrity of the in­sti­tu­tion”.

We may never know whether or not Mkhwe­bane is a Gupta pup­pet, as Malema al­leges. What we do know is that she loves ANN7 so much that one of her first in­struc­tions to staff upon her ar­rival was to change the of­fice tele­vi­sion sets from eNCA to the Gup­tas’ pro­pa­ganda TV chan­nel.

It is also un­likely that we will ever con­firm that she was a spy. Se­cret agents don’t go about flash­ing their busi­ness cards or in­tro­duc­ing them­selves to new ac­quain­tances as em­ploy­ees of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. Spy agen­cies never con­firm that their se­cret plants are in­deed on their pay­roll. Se­crecy and de­cep­tion are cen­tral pil­lars of suc­cess­ful in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions.

What we do know is that we do not fully know Bu­sisiwe Mkhwe­bane. She and who­ever she an­swers to (in­stead of only an­swer­ing to the Con­sti­tu­tion) suc­cess­fully de­ceived South Africans from a wide spec­trum about her mis­sion. It is be­com­ing ap­par­ent that some­thing else lay be­hind her nom­i­na­tion and suc­cess­ful pas­sage through the com­mit­tee.

We in the Fourth Es­tate are as much to blame as the MPs and other ob­server bod­ies for not be­ing awake to the con that was pulled on the coun­try. And what an elab­o­rate con it was.

Af­ter some de­serv­ing can­di­dates had been knocked off the list at the con­clu­sion of the ini­tial in­ter­views, the strong­est can­di­dates were Judge Si­raj De­sai and the highly re­garded ad­vo­cate Bongani Majola. Of these, De­sai was widely con­sid­ered the can­di­date that the com­mit­tee would set­tle on, given the ANC’s ap­par­ent lean­ing to­wards the Cape High Court judge.

But there had been con­cerns about De­sai’s per­ceived prox­im­ity to the ANC and the fact that he once wan­dered into the wrong ho­tel room one night while he was at­tend­ing a con­fer­ence in In­dia. Most of the en­er­gies of op­po­si­tion par­ties and civil so­ci­ety were fo­cused on mak­ing sure he did not get the job. Lit­tle did we re­alise that the whole ruse was to get the de­cep­tively harm­less – but highly ar­tic­u­late and forth­right – ad­vo­cate of 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

Only the Coun­cil for the for Ad­vance­ment of the SA Con­sti­tu­tion raised an alarm about the short list, say­ing that the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee had “failed to go through a rig­or­ous process of eval­u­at­ing the can­di­dates”.

It is too late to self-flag­el­late or pass blame now that we have a Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor who does not en­joy the con­fi­dence of so­ci­ety. We should have seen the signs way back then and sup­pressed our ex­cite­ment about the sur­prise. She was clearly too light­weight for the po­si­tion. Hav­ing pre­vi­ously worked as a Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor in­ves­ti­ga­tor un­der pre­vi­ous in­cum­bent Lawrence Mush­wana, her other overt jobs (if you be­lieve the spy al­le­ga­tion) were pen-push­ing as­sign­ments. But then again, she thor­oughly im­pressed at the in­ter­view and was per­haps go­ing to sur­prise us in a pos­i­tive way.

Can Mkhwe­bane res­cue her­self and be the kind of Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor she promised us she would be? Can she re­store pub­lic con­fi­dence in her­self?

That all de­pends on whether or not she is a se­cret agent, who her han­dlers are, what tasks they have given her and what hold they have on her.

She has six years and three months to prove wrong a so­ci­ety that is in­creas­ingly dis­trust­ful of her.

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