Johannesburg - Thuli Madonsela is involved in a ferocious war of words with President Jacob Zuma and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhebane in what looks like an epic battle since Madonsela’s term ended.
In an unprecedented move, Madonsela on Saturday urged President Zuma to prove he didn’t have an influence on the appointment of Advocate Mkhwebane as the Public Protector.
This after Zuma, through the office of the Presidency yesterday, said he was “outraged” Madonsela had claimed that she was being “targeted” by him on the reported deductions from her gratuity after her term ended in October last year.
Zuma said Madonsela should refrain from such conduct as he does not play any role when it comes to the salary and conditions of service of the public protector as they were determined by Parliament.
“It is unfortunate that advocate Madonsela decided to use the president’s name in matters which do not involve him. The abuse of the name of the president in such a matter is preposterous and disappointing,” Zuma said in a statement yesterday.
Madonsela, who is on a year-long study in the US, was spitting fire when contacted for comment yesterday. She said while she apologised to Zuma but said she viewed the accusations against her seriously. The least he could do, she said, was to explain her suspicions for his role in Mkhwebane’s appointment.
“The matter is not about the Presidency. The matter is about Mr Zuma as a person. I do note the anger. I think… Mr President Zuma could allow a process to test, and go into how the public protector was appointed. I do have a suspicion about how the public protector was appointed,” she said.
Madonsela was adamant she has information showing that had a hand in her successor’s appointment.
“When Mkhwebane started acting capriciously towards me and staff members that had worked closely with me, a former member of the public protector office who had left long before she (Mkhwebane) came told me that during my farewell event at Gallagher Estate (in Midrand), a certain staff member was flashing a text message in her cellphone to other staff members.
“The message from Mkhwebane to (the staff member) allegedly said: ‘You’re my future chief of staff.’
“By then Parliament had not voted or considered the appointment (of Mkhwebane). Only the adhoc committee had recommended. The president too had not acted. The message was not stolen but proudly shared by (the staff member) herself.”
Madonsela said she had decided to speak out as she couldn’t continue to remain silent as Mkhwebane seemed to have embarked on a campaign to denigrate and tarnish her character unfairly. She reiterated she was being targeted for investigating Zuma on the Nkandla security upgrades and state capture.
“You know, there was this whole disinformation in Parliament where she (Mkhwebane) sort of denigrated me. Now, I just know what is happening, and all I said is I do believe what is happening to me is payback for Zuma. I truly believe.
“I was asked several times, ‘Do you think President Zuma is involved.’ I don’t have evidence but I do suspect that he, or people related or close to him, are involved.
“I do think that what will clear this suspicion is to (reveal) who nominated her (Mkhwebane)? “Did she not tell the staff member that she had been nominated by Zuma?”
“I will say to the president, I apologise for hurting his feelings, I have only spoken what’s in my heart right now. I suspect there’s a deal, and that suspicion was confirmed when his lawyer insisted on that the new public protector might have a different approach to the matter and that this matter must be deferred to her. So, it’s a series of things.
“The matter is not just about how she was appointed, but the way she’s behaved in a bizarre way about how we should work together as successor and predecessor.”
Mkhwebane told The Sunday Independent on Friday that she did not have anything against Madonsela, and sought to clarify the deduction on her gratuity and other matters.
“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 in her care. The matter is not personal.”
Madonsela, however, said Mkhwebane was being disingenuous and vindictive.
“Then the issue of the car, I haven’t denied that my car crashed the car. What I find vindictive is her saying that I wronged. I denied wrongdoing by me, but there was wrongdoing by my son.
“The issue is not so much about the money. It’s two issues. The first one is her saying to the world I did something wrong. I think that is vindictive.
“The second one is how it was done before verifying how much needs to be paid.
“I mean if you compare how I treated Zuma and how I have been treated… I am (being) given a bill for a car that has been written off that is more than the value of the car.”
Madonsela was at pains to explain that the car was given to her by the SAPS VIP Protection Unit.
She further questioned the gratuity paid to her, saying it was bizarre that she received the same amount that advocate Lawrence Mushwana was paid when his term ended. Madonsela also responded to Mkhwebane’s statements that when she took over office, she found morale among the staffers low.
She said she found it strange that her successor had stated the issue as if it there was something wrong that she had done that contributed to the low staff morale.
“The issue about staff morale was in my report, which clearly explained that it was primarily because of pay disputes,” Madonsela said, also questioning Mkhwebane’s statements around the use of consultants and her claims that the office of the public protector had improved performance since she took over.
“But also ask yourself, for her to perform in such a space of time, is it a relay? You have to ask the person who finally leaves the winning spot at what point was the relay given to them.
“And then there’s the issue that (outstanding) reports were closed. Stats can lie. Of those reports that were closed, how many were resolved and a proper conclusion had been reached?
“The investigators would say they are closing this investigation because they are not getting a response. So, if you are going to celebrate all the investigations yo have closed, then those investigators will laugh at you. I am not saying that’s what happened, I am saying there’s a potential that’s what happening.”
She said Mkhwebane was being disingenuous by claiming she didn’t have anything against her. She pointed out the alleged purging of staffers, some of whom she said were hounded out of the office “like dogs”.
“We have to ask herself, she has nothing to do with me. Why has she treated those people ruthlessly?
“Knowing that I was an outgoing person, why hasn’t she invited me knowing the work that I do? Why in her 100 days, she hasn’t met me if she says she doesn’t have any beef with me?
“If she’s telling the truth, let her release those correspondences because we can only rely on what’s written. It’s not my intention to work with the public protector.
“What I had wanted was two things: a proper handover where I clean out all my memory to her in terms of responses of the offices. Secondly, her trying to impugn my integrity.”
Asked whether she would consider taking action against Mkhwebane, she said: “I had moved into the sunset, just as my predecessors. I don’t have the energy and inclination,I just want to move on with my life.”