Mkhwebane carves out her own identity
LAST SEPTEMBER Dr Makhosi Khoza, who chaired the ad-hoc committee that conducted interviews for a new public protector, recapped in the National Assembly the marathon session of 14 interviews they conducted with potential candidates vying to head this key Chapter 9 institution, and how the final one was chosen.
“The public interest in this process was unparalleled. Our tabling for the consideration by this house stems not only from the ad-hoc committee deliberations, but from the members of the public who made it clear who they wanted,” Khoza told MPs.
More than 60% of the National Assembly – bar the DA – agreed with Khoza’s recommendation of advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane as the new public protector, replacing advocate Thuli Madonsela. However, the new public protector has hardly settled in office, but a major campaign has been unleashed against her.
From the moment she stepped into office, Mkhwebane made it known that she was not her predecessor and would not do things the way Madonsela did. She rightfully sought to carve her own identity. The first thing that irked the biased media and the chattering classes was her assertion that the naming of public protector reports should not be sensationalised as her predecessor had done. She also wanted her focus to be much more on ordinary people’s complaints, so-called Gogo Dlamini cases, rather than just high-profile matters. That also didn’t go down well.
But perhaps an office instruction of hers that was over-sensationalised and blown out of proportion was when she apparently asked that television sets in the building that houses the institution show much more of a news variety than just eNCA. Mkhwebane is said to have told staff that other televisions in the building had to show competing news channels such as SABC News and ANN7. She was immediately labelled a Gupta sympathiser.
The media and its opposition backers had already branded her the enemy – she is not their darling Thuli Madonsela. The vultures were ready to pounce, and they got their moment when she made an error in her recommendations in as far as they relate to the mandate of the Reserve Bank.
There have been numerous calls for her to either resign or be subjected to a parliamentary inquiry into her fitness for office, this despite the fact that she has seen the error of her ways and has opted not to challenge a review application by the Reserve Bank into her findings.
But let us closely examine Mkhwebane’s other “crimes”, which have resulted in this public vitriol against her. The DA – which did not support her endorsement by Parliament – has tried to paint her as a spy by virtue of her previous employment by the State Security Agency. These spurious spy allegations stem from the fact that Mkhwebane, a seasoned immigration expert, was posted to China as an immigration officer in her previous occupation. On completion of her posting to China, she joined the State Security Agency as an analyst.
She has correctly threatened legal action against the DA, which has provided no shred of evidence to prove that she was spying on the Chinese government on behalf of South Africa, an extremely serious allegation which could threaten diplomatic relations between the two allies.
“There’s no truth in that. “I have given (the DA) enough time to do that (to withdraw and apologise), and they have not done it, so indeed now I’m seriously considering, (and) I will be taking legal action in that matter. This matter impacts on the integrity of this institution. I don’t think this institution would love to be led by a spy,” Mkhwebane said at a media briefing at Public Protector House in Pretoria in February.
Another reason advanced by those who are out to lynch the public protector is her decision not to sensationally title her reports or focus only on high- profile investigations. What is wrong with a public protector that doesn’t want reports titled as if they are crime novels? She is a public protector working in the interests of the South African public to uncover and remedy maladministration by government departments and agencies; she’s not a sleuth on an undercover investigative mission. If she finds wrongdoing and misappropriation of public funds in her investigations, she has the obligation to report these to the relevant law- enforcement authorities.
Her predecessor left her with a halfbaked report into state capture and Mkhwebane has rightly taken ownership of this report, this to a point where she is even opposing President Jacob Zuma’s decision to take it on judicial review. How can she be a State Security appointee when she is willing to take on the Number One citizen of this country in such a feisty manner?
But again, she is correct to say that this report should not be taking precedence over many others that deal with maladministration involving ordinary citizens.
“Which one is a matter of life and death, a person who is sitting without electricity, without hot water; children going to school without water, as compared to state capture? Yes, it is important to look into it and I will, but my priority is to ensure that persons (at) grassroots level benefit more,” she told the SABC.
The new public protector has every right to want to carve her own identity and create her own destiny. She is not Madonsela and will never be.
She is not Madonsela and she will never be
Meokgo Matuba is ANCWL secretary-general