Mkhwe­bane carves out her own iden­tity

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - MEOKGO MATUBA

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

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