Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane File picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Johannesburg – Busiswe Mkhwebane has admitted her term of office as public protector got off to a rocky start because of the criticism of her, but says she didn’t expect the level of personal attacks she has had to fend off.

“It is natural with every transition that there be a bit of turbulence, especially with the changing of the guard.

“However, what I did not expect was the peddling of half-truths, fabrications, innuendos and vitriol about me and the office,” she told the Saturday Star on Friday.

Since taking over from the much-revered Thuli Madonsela on October 17, Mkhwebane has attracted public scorn and criticism because of her alleged controversial decisions, including opting not to oppose President Jacob Zuma’s court bid to challenge the “State of Capture” report, making staffers change TV channels to the Gupta-owned ANN7 and the alleged purging of senior staff.

Mkhwebane said she was being unfairly targeted. “It’s all unfair criticism because it is not based on fact. I never issued an instruction to have office TV sets tuned to ANN7.

“I merely enquired why the sets appeared to be tuned to eNCA all the time.”

On her decision not to oppose Zuma’s court bid, she said: “I was not in a position to do so because I had not had a chance to study the report. So I decided to neither support nor oppose, merely on those grounds, unless the view is that I should have just opposed it for the sake of opposing without a proper understanding of the issues at play.”

Tensions between Mkhwebane and Madonsela escalated this week when The Citizen reported that Madonsela had accused her successor of peddling “false news and lies” against her. This is after Mkhwebane said during a media briefing on Thursday that Madonsela would be charged nearly R500000 for allegedly using her BMW for longer than she should have and for her son allegedly crashing the car years ago.

But on Friday, Mkhwebane reiterated her stance that she did not have anything against her predecessor. “I am grateful to advocate Thuli Madonsela for the solid foundation she has laid for me. It is because of her that I inherit a strong institution, with sound systems and a dedicated, skilled, experienced and hard-working team.

“I have no issue with advocate Madonsela. I have said that we are seeking a legal opinion to ascertain if docking her gratuity would be the right thing to do because, the fact of the matter is, the Government Garage has claimed more than R400 000 from us for the car that got involved in an accident while it was in her care. This is not personal.”

She said she would do things her way. “Granted, I bring my own perspectives, methods, vision and experiences.”

Asked about perceptions that she was a puppet or pawn used to fight the president’s political battles, Mkhwebane said: “No. I am my own person and I owe allegiance only to the constitution and the law.

“All I ask from South Africans is half a chance to prove myself,” she said.

Saturday Star