Mkhwebane: A ‘lady of guts’, or a 007 spy?

2016-09-11 07:18
Janet Heard

Janet Heard

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It should be ludicrous to suggest that the next Public Protector may have been an undercover agent.

But recent events are teaching us that anything is possible under the faltering regime that is bringing shame to democratic South Africa.

And it is not only members of the executive who are turning us into mistrustful cynics, but also honourable members in Parliament who have acted inconsistently with the Constitution on more than one occasion.

So, when the DA dropped its unsubstantiated bombshell claim that Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane was South Africa’s version of a 007 agent and that the Public Protector’s office was at risk of state capture, it could not be laughed off completely.

It required interrogation beyond Mkhwebane’s dignified denial when contacted by journalists.

Yet the ANC and other opposition parties, except the Congress of the People, gave Mkhwebane the benefit of the doubt the following day and voted in support of her nomination.

If Mkhwebane compromises the integrity of the Public Protector’s office in any way, her appointment may be taken on judicial review.

But it is unfair – to her and the nation – that she is set to take up Thuli Madonsela’s office with aspersions cast on her name.

And MPs, including those on the opposition benches, should shoulder some of the blame for this unresolved situation.

Mkhwebane should have been grilled far more intensely during the ad hoc committee’s selection process, which was televised live.

While there was transparency, proceedings were dizzyingly rushed and poorly timed over the local elections period.

MPs were fatigued and distracted when the interviews of the short-listed candidates took place, with each of the 14 candidates limited to one-hour slots.

When Mkhwebane was interviewed, I was impressed at her delivery.

Watching on TV, I sent a WhatsApp to a colleague who was covering proceedings in the Old Assembly: “Mkhwebane is doing okay, right?” She replied. “I like her. But…”

Ifs and buts aside, a short list of five candidates was drawn up in haste and Mkhwebane’s nomination went through without a fuss, though the DA subsequently raised a red flag and declined to endorse her as the committee’s preferred candidate.

Through the process, conspiracy theories in opposition party corridors circulated, including speculation that one of the more controversial candidates, Judge Siraj Desai, was a stalking horse for the ANC, so that their preferred candidate – initially rumoured to be Nonkosi Cetywayo – could safely wriggle through (bearing in mind that in Mkhwebane’s case, it was the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) that nominated her in the first place).

Whether any of these claims are true or hysteria, only time will tell. In the meantime, President Jacob Zuma is set to sign off Mkhwebane’s nomination.

All we can hope for is that this “lady of guts”, as the IFP referred to her, clears her name by proving the DA wrong and by doing the Office of the Public Protector proud.

Heard is Media24’s parliamentary editor

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Read more on:    cope  |  da  |  anc  |  ifp  |  busisiwe mkhwebane  |  public protector

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