Was former police minister Nathi Nhleko interviewed for top Public Protector job?

Former police minister Nathi Nhleko
Former police minister Nathi Nhleko
Lulama Zenzile

Former police minister Nathi Nhleko was apparently spotted at the offices of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane last week for an interview for the recently vacated CEO post.

In a telephone call with News24 on Tuesday, Nhleko did not deny going for the interview and simply answered repeated questions by saying: "I cannot comment."

The Public Protector also did not deny that he was interviewed, saying that the process was confidential.

"The vacant positions of chief operations officer and chief executive officer are in the process of being filled. Candidates have been interviewed for both posts but no appointments have been made yet," Public Protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said on Monday.

READ | Mkhwebane intent on destroying Public Protector' office, veteran official tells Parliament

"The Public Protector is aware of the prevailing speculation regarding the candidates and the shortlists. She is of the view that sharing confidential information mid-process about who applied and who didn't, who made the shortlist and who didn't, could jeopardise the recruitment exercise and prejudice candidates. The public will be informed once the process has been finalised," Segalwe added.

The head of the Public Protector's office in the Free State, Sphelo Samuel, confirmed knowledge of Nhleko's interview.

Another senior Public Protector source, who asked to remain anonymous, also said Nhleko was interviewed.

Former CEO Vussy Mahlangu left in late 2019, apparently for greener pastures, and former COO Basani Baloyi levelled well-publicised allegations of impropriety against Mkhwebane in court papers following her acrimonious departure. 

When he was police minister, Nhleko put his weight behind a report into upgrades at former president Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead, which absolved Zuma of any wrongdoing or liability for the costs.

Mkhwebane's predecessor, advocate Thuli Madonsela, reached a different conclusion in her Secure in Comfort report, in which it was found that Zuma had to pay for certain non-security upgrades.

During a press briefing in May 2015, months after the release of Madonsela's report, Nhleko revealed a new report that was intended to absolve Zuma, complete with shaky videos showing firefighters in action and demonstrating how a swimming pool, or the "firepool", would be used in case of a fire.

The soundtrack on the video was, bizarrely, a snippet of 'O Sole Mio'.

READ | VBS, Jacob Zuma and the ‘sham’ Nkandla bond he couldn’t afford

His report attempted to convince South Africa that an animal enclosure or kraal, which cost R1.5m, an 'assembly area' (R1.9m), an amphitheatre (R530 000), and a visitor's centre at a staggering R7.9m of taxpayer funds were "security upgrades".

"Accordingly the president is therefore not liable to pay for any of these security features," Nhleko was quoted as saying at the time.

The Constitutional Court would later disagree, ordering Zuma to pay a portion of the costs.

He covered the bill with a questionable bond from the now infamous and liquidated VBS Mutual Bank.

Nhleko completed the report after Zuma, responding to questions in the National Assembly, instructed him to do so. It was presented to the Cabinet.

According to Nhleko's People's Assembly biography, he holds a diploma in labour law and previously worked as a director general for the Department of Labour.

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