Spare a thought for Busisiwe Mkhwebane as everyone rushes for their matchboxes to burn her. The public protector had the apex court in this country unequivocally rubbish her credentials to do her job - or any job for that matter.
The country’s top judges think her conduct has been so bad that they’ve further punished her by upholding a ruling by a lower court for her to personally bear 15% of the legal costs brought by the Reserve Bank. That’s a potential R1 million she will have to pay herself.
Only the chief justice and one other judge disagreed. I have to agree with him, even if not for exactly the same reasons.
If Mkhwebane was as heroically incompetent as she appears (and her conduct immediately after this week’s ruling would suggest that she actually is), then the next two cases - against Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa, could be even worse.
If so, and with the precedent re-affirmed, she might be hopelessly bankrupted by the end of this year alone.
The rejoicing is painful to see because it shows just how desperate we are for a sacrificial figure, a lightning rod for all our resentment and hurt occasioned by the toxic trifecta of state capture, official incompetence and brazen unaccountability.
Mkhwebane is just a pawn in this. Many suspected as much when she was appointed. This week was merely the car crash of her remarkably bad tenure in a Chapter9 institution. But it’s one that could go on continuous slow-motion loop as other judgments go against her.
How can it be justice to punish a person to the point of bankruptcy and yet still expect them to do their job?
Surely, if an individual is that bad, they should be fired - to protect the rest of us?
Instead, we are left with the perversity of a dramatically weakened, though critically important office, and a potentially dangerous precedent of personal cost orders, narrowing the culpability to individuals when the entire system is rotten.
And, in the bitterest of ironies; Jacob Zuma, who singularly abused the state’s legal resources to ever avoid facing the personal consequences for what appear to be a litany of his own criminal acts in office, is free to dance and laugh for Twitter videos before appearing in front of the commission called to investigate the state capture he oversaw only to filibuster and finagle. After more than a decade, he is still no closer than ever being brought to court.
It’s our fault. Actually, it’s the fault of the people we chose to represent us, irrespective of which side of the house they sit on. The hypocrisy of the government’s inaction in removing Mkhwebane despite her proven inability - and, indeed, bias - is matched only by the opposition, especially the DA’s bid to unseat her, yet still use her office and her flawed reports against the president.
Perhaps, if we’re looking at enforcing accountability, the Constitutional Court could start mulcting our MPs.
That would be a precedent worth considering.
* Ritchie is a former journalist and newspaper editor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.