When Black First Land First said‘boo’, Mkhwebane jumped
On February 28 the controversial Black First Land First movement (BLF) wrote to public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in what it described as an official submission towards her investigation into the apartheid-era bailout of Bankorp, later acquired by Absa.
“No tax had been required for the gift to Bankorp/Absa, which in turn suggests that a considerable loss in tax revenue has been incurred — as huge as the gift itself,” wrote BLF convener Andile Mngxitama.
Within hours, Mkhwebane asked a member of staff to “get us some information on the tax implications of the gift to Bankorp”.
Documents now in the public domain thanks to legal action against her suggest this was not the first time the public protector had reacted to the BLF with unseemly haste.
Mkhwebane met the BLF on January 12 about the Absa matter, a meeting she did not disclose in her report. What happened during that meeting is not known; it is among the meetings for which she has not provided any records. However, it is safe to assume that the matter of criminal charges came up. “BLF recommends that, where applicable, those implicated in wrongdoing be subjected to criminal prosecutions,” Mngxitama wrote in February.
The next day, handwritten notes show, Mkhwebane met with a “warrant officer” of the South African Police Service, who declined to tell the Mail & Guardian what branch of the police he works for. “Open a case,” reads one line of the notes.
Mkhwebane’s approach to and relationship with the BLF is in sharp contrast to that of her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, who once pointed out to the BLF that, as it was neither a complainant in the matter nor represented in Parliament, she was dealing with it only “out of courtesy”. The BLF later invaded Madonsela’s offices in Pretoria and took staff members hostage.
The treatment of the BLF is also very different from that meted out to the Reserve Bank (the constitutional mandate of which Mkhwebane ordered changed) and Absa (which she found had illegally received R1.125-billion in misappropriated funds). Both banks have told the high court in Pretoria that Mkhwebane did not give them a fair hearing during her investigation.
Absa chief executive Maria Ramos said in an affidavit that she had spoken to Mkhwebane by phone, also on January 12. “I specifically invited her to continue engaging with Absa in relation to her investigation,” Ramos said. “The public protector did not take up this invitation.”
The State Security Agency (SSA) also seemed to have made an unusual — and previously undisclosed — amount of input into Mkhwebane’s work. In a statement on Thursday, her office said she had met the spy agency to inquire about its contract with British private intelligence company Ciex and “the management process of that contract by SSA”, referring to a meeting on March 3.
But a one-page handwritten note from a meeting on June 6 is headed: “Meeting with SSA — Economist”. The note refers to “independence” and aligning “with constitutional obligations”.
Mkhwebane met with the presidency the following day. Two weeks later, she ordered Parliament to change the Constitution to make “socioeconomic wellbeing” rather than inflation targeting the main task of the Reserve Bank.
Mkhwebane’s office on Thursday responded to detailed questions with a short statement. It read, in full: “Regarding the contents of the record, this forms part of the matter still pending in court and is therefore sub judice. The public protector does not intend to litigate through the media and will address all issues raised by [the Reserve Bank] in her answering affidavit due to be filed on October 23.” —