Ralph Mathekga

Ralph Mathekga: Mkhwebane's fate in the hands of unpredictable ANC caucus

2020-01-28 06:00
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at a committee meeting in Parliament in October. (Jan Gerber, News24)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at a committee meeting in Parliament in October. (Jan Gerber, News24)

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The instructions from Luthuli House would certainly urge that the ANC caucus in Parliament shows restraint on Mkhwebane, while the Union Buildings would certainly prefer her out of the office as soon as yesterday, writes Ralph Mathekga

The looming parliamentary review of advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane's fitness to hold office as the Public Protector will be the first major test of the ANC caucus in Parliament since the inauguration of the 6th Parliament after the elections last year.

After the decision by the Speaker of the National Assembly to start the parliamentary inquiry into Mkhwebane, the future of the controversial Public Protector lays in the hands of the ANC caucus in Parliament.

Mkhwebane has been a nuisance to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his key ally Pravin Gordhan.

Both Ramaphosa and Gordhan have been respectively reproached by Mkhwebane in her reports.

A lot can be said about whether Mkhwebane deserves all that is coming her way regarding her fitness to hold office.

Some are convinced that Mkhwebane deserves the boot; having issued reports that are said to be sub-par and lacking in substance.

The Mkhwebane matter has significance beyond the substantive question as to whether she should be removed.

The issue will give a clear indication on how the ANC caucus in Parliament is positioned in relation to the executive, thus Cabinet.

Some within the ANC-led executive branch of government would want to see Mkhwebane fired. There are also those within the ANC who would want to protect Mkhwebane against what they see as a lynching mob.

Ramaphosa and his allies have been repeatedly accused of staging a political campaign to remove Mkhwebane from office because she is considered a Jacob Zuma stooge whose purpose is to undermine the New Dawn.

Those who stand with Mkhwebane see themselves as standing against the system that is set on removing the inconvenient truth from the public eye.

When it comes to what should happen to Mkhwebane, the ANC is sharply divided.

It is not clear which direction the party caucus in Parliament will move on Mkhwebane as she has both admirers and detractors there.

The current ANC parliamentary caucus is so unpredictable that there is no guarantee that it will vote to remove Mkhwebane. This is not about whether Mkhwebane is wrong or right; but rather about proxy battles that are underway within the ANC.

The current political atmosphere within the ANC - whereby factionalism has been institutionalised into state institutions including Parliament and the party caucus - might embarrass the party in the process of removing Mkhwebane.

It will be embarrassing and tragic if the ANC caucus in Parliament adopt a defiance position regarding Mkhwebane.

Clearly the head of the executive, Ramaphosa, would wish Mkhwebane be removed for the obvious reason that she has pushed the president into the corner on the CR17 campaign finance matter.

If the ANC caucus in Parliament decides not to remove Mkhwebane, that would be interpreted as an act of defiance against Ramaphosa and his allies.

If Mkhwebane survives the parliamentary process, she will come out of it with guns blazing; to finish off the work she had started.

If she is removed the president will gain reprieve, but that would mean that the party caucus would have acceded to the criticisms against Mkhwebane.

The difficult question is whether the ANC caucus will take instructions from Luthuli House or will it be a case of reading the political wind as it blows from the Union Buildings where the president sits.

The instructions from Luthuli House would certainly urge that the ANC caucus in Parliament shows restraint on Mkhwebane, while the Union Buildings would certainly prefer her out of the office as soon as yesterday.

The opposition parties differ as to what should be done about Mkhwebane.

The EFF would certainly prefer to shower Mkhwebane with awards for bravery for having taken on the big boys in her reports.

The DA on the other hand would prefer Mkhwebane removed and kept far from the Office of the Public Protector.

One way or another, the way in which the ANC caucus deals with the matter would give a clear indication as to what is possible under Ramaphosa's administration.

If efforts to remove Mkhwebane through Parliament fails because the ANC caucus is not in on it; that would be more tragic in the sense that the ANC caucus in Parliament would not only have emboldened Mkhwebane.

In that way, the caucus would have drawn the line in the sand for the president and his executive.

That would undermine Ramaphosa's presidency in a way worse than just leaving Mkhwebane alone and not dragging her to Parliament.

Given how unpredictable the ANC caucus in Parliament currently stands, efforts to remove Mkhwebane from office through a parliamentary process is a very risky one-shot manoeuvre whereby one cannot afford to miss.

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril ramapahosa  |  pravin gordhan  |  busisi­we mkhwebane  |  parliament  |  politics
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