Durban — In what has been perceived as an act of desperation, under-fire President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is facing public pressure over the Phala Phala Farmgate scandal, on Thursday suspended Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane with immediate effect.
Mkhwebane, who is facing impeachment, had already started a probe into the millions stolen from Ramaphosa and written to him and others regarding the theft, kidnapping and torture controversy, requesting information.
The scandal is one of the biggest ever to rock a sitting head of state in recent history, and Namibia President Hage Geingob has been dragged into the matter.
Opposition parties and civil society organisations have called on the president to submit his resignation.
However, in his statement announcing the suspension, Ramaphosa said it was linked to the National Assembly’s impeachment proceedings against Mkhwebane,. “Section 194(3) (a) of the Constitution provides that the President may suspend the Public Protector (or any member of a Chapter 9 institution) at any time after the start of proceedings by a committee of the National Assembly for (their) removal.
“Advocate Mkhwebane will remain suspended until the section 194 process in the National Assembly has been completed. President Ramaphosa has fulfilled his obligation to provide Advocate Mkhwebane a fair hearing by according her sufficient time and opportunity to make submissions.
“In considering each element of the Public Protector’s submissions carefully, the president has taken into account the nature of the Public Protector’s office and his own Constitutional obligations,” Ramaphosa said in a statement on Thursday.
Since last week, Ramaphosa has been under fire after former State Security Agency boss, Arthur Fraser, pressed criminal charges against him. Fraser alleged that a robbery took place at Phala Phala farm in February 2020 and $4 million (about R61m) in hard cash was stolen. Furthermore, he alleged in a sworn statement that Ramaphosa and some of his close protection unit members concealed the theft of cash in US dollars.
The theft was allegedly committed by Namibian nationals who apparently conspired with a domestic worker on the farm. Some of those suspected of stealing it was allegedly paid to keep quiet about the matter.
The revelations put Ramaphosa on the back foot after opposition parties and civic organisations like Democracy in Action demanded accountability. He has been asked to explain the source of the cash, why it was not banked, and why the theft was not reported to the police, among others. In response, he ducked the questions, saying only he has never stolen any public money and alleged that the theft was being used to drive a political agenda.
On Monday General Bantu Holomisa, an anti-corruption crusader who leads the UDM wrote to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, demanding that the matter be probed, and said Ramaphosa should take a sabbatical during this process and his position taken over by an acting president.