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Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla
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Nothing has changed as far as the constitutional mandate of the Public Protector are concerned. The office is still “one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts to our nation,” and the DA will continue to refer complaints to it, writes John Steenhuisen.
In 2016, when Parliament voted
to appoint Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane to the position of Public Protector, the
DA was the only party to oppose this appointment. For the last three years, we
held firm in our conviction that she is not a suitable individual to occupy the
office of Public Protector.
Yesterday’s revelation that
the HSBC had flagged a payment allegedly made to Mkhwebane in 2014 by a Hong
Kong company reported to be linked to money laundering schemes of the Gupta
family and their associates or associated companies is merely the cherry on top
of a long list of acts by Mkhwebane that supports our contention that she is
not a fit and proper Public Protector.
When delivering the 2016
landmark Constitutional Court judgment that confirmed that findings and
remedial action by the Public Protector are binding, Chief Justice Mogoeng Moegoeng
took some time to consider the constitutional importance of the office of the
In remarkably beautiful turns
of phrase, the Chief Justice described the institution of the Public Protector
as “one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts to our nation in the fight
against corruption (…)” The Public Protector, he said, is “the embodiment of a
biblical David, who fights the most powerful and well-resourced Goliath.” The
office was conceived of to provide “the poor and marginalised a voice, and
teeth that would bite corruption and abuse (…)”
The judgment was handed down
on 31 March 2016. The incumbent Public Protector at the time was Advocate Thuli
Madonsela, a woman who to a large extent embodied what the Chief Justice was
describing so lyrically. She was seen by many South Africans as a super-hero,
who stood up to speak truth to power on behalf of all South Africans.
But when writing the judgment,
the Chief Justice was not talking about Madonsela, even though she may well
have deserved such high praise. He was writing about the ideal of what a Public
Protector should be – what the writers of our Constitution envisioned a Public
Protector to be. He wasn’t writing about the person – he was writing about the
Seven months after the
Constitutional Court delivered this landmark judgment on the Public Protector’s
powers, Madonsela retired and was replaced by Mkhwebane, which the DA strongly
Mkhwebane soon proved that the
DA’s fears about her were justified. Some of the “highlights” of her tenure so
The conclusion to be drawn
from all of the above is that Mkhwebane, unlike Madonsela, certainly does not
embody any the characteristics so highly praised by Chief Justice Mogoeng and
the Constitutional Court.
However, this does not mean
that the office is no longer any of those things. Nothing has changed as far as
the constitutional mandate and the powers of the Public Protector are
concerned. The office is still “one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts
to our nation,” and the DA will continue to refer complaints to it as and when
the law and circumstances so dictate.
We just need to replace
Mkhwebane with somebody who is better able to fill the shoes of a “biblical
David” – and that is why the DA will not back down in our quest to remove her
from her position as soon as possible.
- Steenhuisen is chief whip of the Democratic Alliance.
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.
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