What next for Mkhwebane?


Having read and heard different arguments on the credibility of the Public Protector and the series of adverse court rulings against her findings – I could think only of the story I read as a seven-year-old in Grade 1.

It was a parable of a hard-working man, who had garnered much praise from his community.

Among the two-legged creatures that were observing the hard work of this man was a monkey, which felt that by emulating the man it was going to be showered with praises too.

But it wasn’t to be. Instead, insults were hurled at it and some even threatened to kill it.

This story rings true of the situation facing Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

I am in no way comparing her to a monkey. But, if you look at her situation, you’d understand where I am going with this.

Mkhwebane, as Thuli Madonsela’s successor, had big shoes to fill.

After all, the latter had been canonised and glorified for reforming the office in question which, during the times of Selby Baqwa and Lawrence Mushwana, was a Rottweiler that barked but did not bite.

Among the historic findings of Madonsela was one against a sitting president, Jacob Zuma, in the infamous Nkandla report.

Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela

The apex court became involved to clarify whether a Public Protector’s findings and remedial actions were binding.

The Constitutional Court said indeed the remedial actions were binding – forcing a president to abide by the findings.

Many people were inspired by this, saying “no one was untouchable”. But I was confused by this landmark judgment.

An institution that is supposed to make recommendations was now that powerful.

How can recommendations be binding? I guess I blame it on my grasp of the English language or lack thereof.

Once again, the Constitutional Court has created another dangerous precedent, ruling that the Public Protector should pay some of the costs after she lost the case against banking giant Absa.

Was she acting in her personal capacity when she investigated this matter?

If not, why should she have to pay from her pocket? Is this not likely to gag other institutions of this kind to take people or businesses to task on alleged maladministration?

If this decision to make Mkhwebane pay was due to negligence and failure to follow procedure, to me, the court should have advocated her removal instead.

The challenge is that when Mkhwebane took over, she assumed that she was as powerful as her predecessor.

But the recent turn of events seems to suggest that no one cares about what she does – instead, they are going for her jugular – and this includes her second-in-command Kevin Malunga.

He has alleged that his boss had not consulted him on some of the reports – throwing Mkhwebane under a moving SA Roadlink bus.

So, just like the two-legged creature with fur in the preceding paragraphs, people – if media reports are anything to go by – do not care about what Mkhwebane does.

Instead they want her gone instead of being showered with praises as she expected.

Mkhwebane should have tried to build her reputation first, taking time before releasing reports to avoid embarrassment.

She still has four years remaining of her contract provided she survives the motion on her fate in Parliament next month.

The monkey business of trying to outshine Madonsela seems to be the last straw in her career which hangs by a fine thread. More haste, less speed.

Gumede is a journalism lecturer at the IIE Rosebank College and a sociopolitical commentator

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