Mkhwebane’s office confirms suspension of senior official over calls for her to resign

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s office on Thursday confirmed the suspension, with immediate effect, of Sphelo Samuel, the Free State representative of the Public Protector.

Mkhwebane’s office said the suspension was precautionary.

It comes after Samuel called on Mkhwebane to resign after she was dealt yet another blow on Tuesday as the Pretoria High Court set aside her report on the CR17 matter.

READ: Mkhwebane dealt another legal blow as judges absolve Ramaphosa

In his email sent to the Public Protector on Tuesday, Samuel, who also copied staff in his correspondence, accused Mkhwebane of being incapacitated and requested that she step down “to maintain the integrity of her office”.

Through a media statement, the Public Protector announced that Samuel was “placed on precautionary suspension with immediate effect”.

Public Protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe explained that the suspension was a result of Samuel “writing and widely distributing a disparaging letter which he addressed to the Public Protector on Tuesday”.

“The correspondence in question subsequently surfaced in the public domain. He [Samuel] then conducted extensive media interviews during which he continued to disparage the Public Protector,” said Segwale.

He said the grounds on which Samuel was being placed on precautionary suspension were him having used “office resources, including a branded letterhead and his official email, to write and email the letter.

Sphelo Samuel
Sphelo Samuel

“In so doing, not only did he disrupt operations at the Public Protector and incite staff to turn against the [Mkhwebane], he abused the employer’s facilities to pursue his personal vendetta against the Public Protector and to deal with matters which have nothing to do with his official responsibilities,” said Segwale.

Samuel has publicly indicated that he is not surprised by his suspension.

“It started this morning when they blocked my access to emails and the internet, and I couldn’t communicate with anyone, including my staff.”

Segwale, however, explained that the suspension was “not a sanction but an interim measure meant to grant the employer an unhindered opportunity to carry out an investigation into Samuel’s conduct”.

He added that Samuel “will have his full benefits/pay during the course of the suspension”.

This development comes at a time when Samuel is due to undergo a disciplinary hearing for an unrelated matter.

READ: Assault case haunts Public Protector whistle-blower

A lawsuit was recently launched against the Public Protector by a member of the public who, in 2017, secured a conviction against Samuel for assault in the Public Protector’s Polokwane office.

The court subsequently sentenced Samuel to a jail term or a fine. He opted to pay the fine, thereby admitting guilt. The hearing relates to the assault case.

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