Divisions over South Africa Ombudsman’s future

Monday June 3 2019

South Africa's Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. PHOTO | COURTESY

South Africa's Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and two organisations are spearheading a fresh bid for her sacking. PHOTO | COURTESY 

PETER DUBE
By PETER DUBE
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South Africa’s top political parties and civic organisations are divided over the fate of embattled public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution are spearheading a fresh bid for her sacking.

DA wants a fresh investigation into Ms Mkhwebane’s fitness for office and has written to the new National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise asking her to initiate a parliamentary inquiry.

The development comes after the North Gauteng High Court set aside Ms Mkhwebane’s report on the Estina dairy farm project at Vrede in the Free State province, declaring it unconstitutional and invalid.

More than $13.7 million from the project meant for emerging black farmers was unaccounted for.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said they want the public protector’s conduct and competence probed.

“What we’re doing is once again asking Parliament, is this the right person for fulfilling this very important role of Public Protector? Certainly, given this embarrassing court reversal, Parliament would be derelict in its duty if it wasn’t at the very least to initiate an inquiry into the PPs fitness to hold office.”

The public protector also came under heavy scrutiny when she released a report saying Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan acted improperly when he approved an early retirement for former South Africa Revenue Services deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.

SUPPORT

However, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has argued that Ms Mkhwebane’s findings and her report on Mr Gordhan are accurate.

EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu said the party’s official position is that the public protector “is not going anywhere”.

“Whoever thinks that the public protector is going to be removed when Parliament is reconstituted is just daydreaming,” he added.

The sixth Parliament would need a two thirds majority to throw out the public protector.

The African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Ace Magashule said the ruling party believes in engaging people and not just removing them.

“This is not the first time they wanted to remove the public protector but the ANC voted against it. Our agenda, our tempo is decided by us, [it is] not decided by the opposition,” Mr Magashule said.

The EFF has briefed its lawyers to join in the legal defence of Ms Mkhwebane’s report on Mr Gordhan.

Speaker Modise said she is consulting on what process to follow.

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