Public Protector

Is Public Protector Mkhwebane getting a raw deal?

Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane

New Public Protector (PP), Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane, last week had a group of pastors praying for her protection as she did her work, but she will need a lot more.

Thanks to especially the questionable situations President Zuma became involved in during the term of her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, Mkhwebane landed in the hottest political and governance seat in the land on 1 October this year. Some will, not without justification, call it a no-win situation.

However, in the developing situation around PP Mkhwebane and her office it would be wrong to blame only President Zuma and his troubles, although that is what triggered the situation.

Early in October we wrote that the new PP “has received a hospital pass from President Jacob Zuma and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

“Both have illustrated that for them, own interest and political point-scoring take precedence over accepted judicial principles and best practice.”

This situation was perpetuated last week when President Zuma, in his desperate efforts to protect himself, lodged a complaint with the PP’s office over a purported ‘leak’ to the media of the content of an interview he had with Madonsela during her state capture investigation.

Then, the DA in its desperate efforts opportunistically to milk the ‘Zuma-cow’ in order to score political points, immediately accused Mkhwebane of “dancing to Jacob Zuma’s tune and acting on his behalf to undo the valuable work done by her predecessor” when she requested a police investigation into the alleged ‘leak’.

And we use the term ‘leak’ here advisedly, because a transcript of the interview in question forms part of the already released state capture report. Al that was new was that Madonsela released the audio recording from which the transcription was made.

Zuma used the slimmest of technicalities to try and create another hurdle in the way of the implications for himself of the report.

The DA, for their part, blindly following some media reports that equated an ‘investigation’ with a ‘criminal charge,’ immediately seized on what they saw as an opportunity to build on their earlier narrative of creating suspicions about the integrity of the new PP.

Also readPublic Protector: Zuma and DA should hang their heads in shame

Apparently, the DA did not consider for one moment the possibility that Adv. Mkhwebane’s move to approach the police might have been one to counter the Zuma move and to protect the integrity of her office.

She, however, at least made an error of judgement in not anticipating that, especially against the background of reporting during and since her take-over as PP, this move of hers might in the fast-moving world of the media be misinterpreted as an attack on her predecessor.

One can only hope she has learnt the lesson and ensures that in future she has a thoroughly professional team of advisors available to deal with and manage her office’s relations with the crucial, critical ‘fourth estate’ of any true democracy.

Who does the PP represent?

In the wake of the latest development one commentator posed the important question: “Who does the Public Protector represent?”

The question is posed in the context of the past week’s events and was formulated on the premise that she “laid a criminal charge” against her predecessor.

The short reply should be “no one in particular”, and the question should rather be “What does she represent?”

This, thankfully, is also what comes to the fore in Adv. Mkhwebane’s response this week to the events of the past week and the reactions to them.

She, among other things, said:

  • That she promises South Africans she has no business protecting Zuma; her job is to protect the people; and that she wouldn’t think twice about coming after Mr Zuma whenever his actions amount to misconduct; and
  • “I am here to defend and to implement the Constitution. And I need to categorically state, the Constitution provides for the rights of everyone. So, I am not here to protect one person. My role is to protect the public …”

Against this background, it seems premature and somewhat opportunistic of the DA to, based on last week’s events, state: “It seems that the Public Protector, Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is dancing to Jacob Zuma’s tune and acting on his behalf to undo the valuable work done by her predecessor, Adv. Thuli Madonsela.”

Adjustments needed

Over recent years the job of PP has, undesirably so, become highly personalised around the individual who holds the office. The president and the ANC have to take most of the blame because it resulted mostly from personal attacks on Madonsela when findings were not to their liking.

In the process those institutions, like the security establishment, over which the president holds much sway, did not shy away from using dirty tricks to among other things label Madonsela as an agent of “Western powers”.

Now the DA has gone for a similar strategy by attempting to label the new PP as an agent of the South African security establishment.

There is probably a weakness in the legislation governing the office of the PP under these circumstances in not providing for a more extended overlapping handover period between successive incumbents in the office.

by Piet Coetzer

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