Mkhwebane on inquiry: 'I feel like a woman in an abusive relationship'

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Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Photo: City Press
Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Photo: City Press

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Suspended Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane likened her presence at the Parliament’s impeachment inquiry into her fitness to that of a woman being forced to stay in an abusive relationship.

The inquiry resumed on Tuesday after it adjourned on Friday to allow for Mkhwebane to meet with her legal team and report back to the committee on the way forward. This is after her legal team, led by Advocate Dali Mpofu, walked out of the proceeding of the inquiry last week, citing that they had no mandate to continue in the “illegal process”. This was after the committee had rejected an application for it to be adjourned to allow for Mkhwebane to go to court to review the decision taken by the committee chairperson, Qubudile Dyantyi, and DA’s Kevin Mileham, who both refused to recuse themselves from the inquiry in another application that was brought by the Public Protector.

READ: Mpofu's walkout was 'staged' and 'planned'- suggest MPs

On Friday, Mkhwebane told the committee that she had not terminated the services of her instructing attorneys, Seanego Attorneys, and would have a meeting with them to determine what had transpired when they left the committee proceedings.

On Tuesday, she told the committee that she had spoken with her legal team and they had confirmed that they were still her attorneys of choice.  

She said: 

As repeatedly stated by me to the committee, it was never the case that any of my legal representatives withdrew from representing me or walked out as incorrectly alleged by some members of the committee, the Parliamentary legal adviser and some sections of the media who are hostile towards me.

“The legal practitioners merely implemented, in the most appropriate manner available in their opinion and the circumstances, the mandate which they had at the stage, which was only to deal with the postponement application without giving any recognition to the committee, as presently constituted until otherwise advised.”

Mpofu told the committee last week, before he and the rest of the legal team, that they were unable to “take part in any of the further illegal activities which would involve anything beyond the application” and accept the committee “as it is currently constituted, it's completely illegal”.

READ: A day in Parliament: 'You have the mind of a peanut’ and ‘you are a cockroach'

Last week, Mkhwebane had asked the committee to give her a week to consult with her legal team to ascertain what had transpired but this was rejected.

The director of Seanego Attorneys, Theo Seanego, who was virtually present in the meeting, confirmed to the committee that they still represented Mkhwebane in the inquiry and that they had written a letter to the committee confirming this.

However, Mkhwebane also told the committee that her legal team was unable to attend the meeting on Tuesday.

She said: 

Unfortunately, the counsel is not available to attend the committee sitting today, this week, actually.

She said this was because, until Friday, there were no scheduled committee meetings until the committee sent a letter to say that there would be meetings on Thursday and Friday. Mkhwebane said her legal team had not planned for that. What was “critical”, she said, was that her legal team was now preparing for seven different cases before the Constitutional Court as directed by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, and those cases would be heard on November 24. The cases include the leave to appeal by the DA and President Cyril Ramaphosa regarding the judgment of the Western Cape High Court that Mkhwebane’s suspension is set aside. She said, in addition to that, her legal team also had to finalise the judicial review application regarding Dyantyi and Mileham’s refusal to recuse themselves.

READ: Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka unfazed by attacks

“This week was therefore reserved to deal with other pressing matters, especially what we've received and directed by the Chief Justice and necessitated by the rulings of the committee. You might be able to appreciate that it will be impossible to achieve those tasks and simultaneously do any justice to the last-minute proposed sittings of the committee, which involve the cross-examination of two witnesses,” said Mkwhebane.

‘I feel abused’

Some members of the committee were not pleased that Mkhwebane said her legal team was not available, and others still wanted her to explain exactly what had led to Mpofu and the rest of the legal team walking out last week.

Mileham said Mkhwebane’s team should not pretend that they did not know that if the outcome of her application last week was rejected, the committee would proceed with its work. He said Mkhwebane was being “disingenuous” by saying that her team did not receive prior notice that the inquiry would continue.

He added: 

There is a little bit of mischief at play here.

Other committee members shared the same sentiments as Mileham.

Mkhwebane took exception to Mileham’s statement that she was “disingenuous” especially, she said, because it came from someone who was part of the application for recusal which was refused.

Mkhwebane said:

Mr Mileham, you are even saying ‘you are disingenuous’, and [you are] the very same person who I am not comfortable sitting here and being subjected to you and the chairperson. I mean, today, the president is dealing with the issue of GBV [gender-based violence]. It's like you are subjecting me to stay in an abusive relationship with you. I think, chairperson, it is unfair, and I have indicated that I need to be represented.

However, Mileham said he took the “strongest exception” to Mkhwebane likening his presence on the committee and his questions to GBV.

“Chairperson, as a member of Parliament, I have every right to ask every question of any person who appears before a committee. I have not abused the Public Protector in any way. And to accuse me or yourself, or to liken the questions that we have asked to GVB is untenable. And we can't proceed in that manner,” he said.

Dyantyi asked Mkhwebane “to restrain from that kind of an approach”.

He said: 

I think it borders on being inappropriate to say you feel that we are abusing you. So, I'd like you to proceed and respond to the issues that have been put.

However, Mkhwebane did not back down and said that was how she felt. “I'm giving an example [It is like] saying to a woman who's abused ‘just stay in that relationship'. I'm saying I feel like it and not saying you are doing that. That's how I feel. And I'm saying to you he is saying I'm disingenuous, so I wonder whether that is fine for a member of Parliament to say that in these proceedings and I wonder whether you will request him to withdraw that.”

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