Prove us wrong, Busi
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.