Mkhwebane may well take down others with her

Suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 1, 2023


Nkosikhulule Nyembezi

On Sunday, Parliament’s ad hoc committee investigating suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office voted on the charges she faces and broadly endorsed the independent panel’s findings led by retired Constitutional Court Justice Bess Nkabinde that there was first impression evidence of incompetence and misconduct on her part.

That the majority of committee members also found Mkhwebane to have been negligent in her handling of her duties is shocking and predictable at the same time.

No one reading the report will be surprised to discover that she badly governed her office during her term. The evidence is not concealed in private WhatsApp exchanges or secretly recorded conversations, but played out over several months in public view as a parade of equivocation, contradictions and dissimulation that nearly turned witnesses into accused criminals and political puppets.

Whether Mkhwebane’s insistence that committee chair Qubudile Dyantyi should recuse himself from the proceedings until cleared by due process from bribery allegations stemming from the Tina Joemat-Pettersson tapes that have threatened to derail the historic inquiry helps that need is a pertinent matter.

The committee’s legal adviser, Fatima Ebrahim, told committee members: “As things currently stand, the PP maintains that she is not legally represented.”

Mkhwebane is likely to claim that the report misrepresents her position.

She might be justified in feeling aggrieved that some politicians are cynically deploying the evidence to serve a partisan agenda.

Still, her complaint would get a more sympathetic hearing if she had not already chosen the pursuit of celebrity status over her litigation record and justification for her overreaching investigations.

Even though the inquiry has collated vast evidence, there will still probably be no consensus on the wisdom of some of Mkhwebane’s decisions – their timing, target and cost justification.

There is no doubt that ANC factional fighting influenced her case decisions, and that there were disproportionately positive and negative legal and political costs.

Those two things can be true simultaneously.

It is also possible to simultaneously hold a view of the imperfections of the inquiry as an unavoidable tragedy for which there was no perfect response, and also a case study of inadequate parliamentary oversight marked by avoidable, deadly errors.

It may be too soon to form a definitive judgement of the ANC parliamentary caucus’s culpability and narrow interest peddling by opposition parties, but that is not an exoneration of Mkhwebane, President Cyril Ramaphosa, or the political parties represented in Parliament.

A Mkhwebane end-of-term exit has never, thankfully, looked so desirable, even without the push of an impeachment. Yet she does not look like someone going away without taking down her targeted individuals as part of a more prominent ANC’s implosion circus, and therein lies the problem.

Since coming to office, Ramaphosa pitched himself as an earnest new broom, here to sweep up all the corruption mess in government, but it increasingly looks like the mess is winning.

Nobody ever accused Mkhwebane of selflessness; if she is going down, she is quite capable of taking others with her.

Before the parliamentary vote on Mkhwebane’s impeachment later this month, too many of the inquiry’s most prominent antagonists and protagonists now find themselves outside the tent with nothing to lose and plenty of scores to settle, raising the risk of them forming a circular firing squad to destroy Ramaphosa’s ambitions for a second presidential term.

Nyembezi is a policy analyst, researcher and human rights activist.

Cape Times