Parliament – Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s future hangs in the balance after the ANC failed to categorically support her on Saturday, saying it would decide its position on her future after its caucus meeting on Wednesday.
However, the third biggest party in Parliament, the EFF, has thrown its weight behind the public protector, dismissing the DA’s motion for Mkhwebane’s removal from office as “a waste of time”.
While Mkhwebane enjoyed the support of the EFF, United Democratic Movement (UDM) and African Transformation Forum (ATM), her future would be sealed if the governing party backed the motion tabled by DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen last month.
The trio collectively hold only 48 seats of the 400 seats in the National Assembly. The ANC holds 230 seats and the DA 84. The Sunday Independent spoke to 10 of the 14 parties represented in Parliament on Friday night and on Saturday.
This comes after Speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise confirmed in a letter to Steenhuisen that “the matter will be referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development for consideration”.
On May 23, Steenhuisen submitted a motion to Modise requesting her to initiate procedures to remove Mkhwebane, citing alleged misconduct.
This was Steenhuisen’s second motion on the same matter after the 5th Parliament rejected a similar attempt from the DA.
Steenhuisen has argued that the two high court rulings, which set aside Mkhwebane’s findings or some of her recommendations in the Bankorp/Absa and Estina Dairy matters, were “proof” that the Public Protector did not understand the law and therefore was unfit for office.
The DA enjoys the support of four small parties which collectively hold 17 seats in Parliament. They are Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Cope and the PAC.
The ANC, Patricia De Lille’s Good party and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s IFP said they would finalise their respective positions on Mkhwebane’s future within days.
On Saturday, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte said: “I cannot comment in view of the fact our caucus will discuss its approach on Wednesday. We don’t respond without discussion.”
On Friday night, EFF spokesperson Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the Red Berets would oppose the DA motion because “there is no basis” to reopen the inquiry.
“The portfolio committee resolved that there is no basis to consider removal of the PP, and between that time and now, there is no basis to reopen the same exercise. It will be a waste of time,” Ndlozi said.
His sentiments were shared by UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and the ATM’s president, Vuyo Zungula.
Holomisa said the UDM “will not support that”, because the DA had been “prejudicial” towards Mkhwebane from day one, by claiming she had been a former spy for the State Security Agency.
“This is amazing because, suppose she was working for State Security, right, State Security is an institution which is legal. And this State Security is different from State Security of apartheid where many of the DA members have served under that government.
“Surely, if she was working for the current State Security, she was not planning to assassinate or violate human rights,” Holomisa said.
Zungula said the fact that some of Mkhwebane’s rulings were overturned on appeal was not a reason to remove her, because Supreme Courts regularly overturned high court judgments.
“The Public Protector is doing a sterling job. Remember, the same thing happened with the previous public protector (Thuli Madonsela) when she was doing a good job. There were people who were attacking her left, right and centre,” said Zungula.
FF Plus, ACDP, Cope and the PAC said they stood by the DA motion.
On Friday night, FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said “we do feel she is not fit for office.”
“Findings of some reports proved her incompetence and taken on review to courts, found her findings to be wrong. The impression is also that she is biased, especially on the (Public Enterprises Minister Pravin) Gordhan report.”
ACDP leader Rev. Kenneth Meshoe said his party would consider the DA motion “favourably”, and might support it, because Mkhwebane “has made too many mistakes”.
He said the two court judgments against her have “reduced” the party’s confidence in her.
“There are cases where some people made mistakes but she has not pursued them with the same speed as those of people like President [Cyril] Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan. To resuscitate a case of Gordhan, where he was cleared, creates an impression there is an agenda,” said Meshoe.
However, he maintained that President Cyril Ramaphosa should not have retained Gordhan in his cabinet after Mkhwebane’s report into the SARS pension fund flagged him.
“That’s where we don’t agree with the president 100%. He should have waited until this matter is finalised.”
COPE spokesperson Dennis Bloem said: “Yes, we support the call that she must go. She is not fit for that office. When she was nominated for this position, Cope did not support her, we abstained.”
PAC president Nerius Moloto added “this Public Protector is a disaster, and a suspect of being involved in politics”.
Like the ANC, the IFP and Good said they would finalise their positions on Mkhwebane’s future this week.
IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the leadership of his party would take a decision on Wednesday.
“We are concerned at the escalating controversy insofar as the office of the public protector is concerned, as it is characterised by political theatrics and mudslinging much to the erosion of institutional integrity.”
De Lille said the Good party would “allow Portfolio Committee processes to unfold”, while busy with inductions, “but we will meet after Sona (the Sate of the Nation Address)”.
The National Freedom Party (NFP), African Independent Congress (AIC) and Al Jama-ah could not be reached for comment.
Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said the public protector was not surprised by the DA’s “unjustified” move.
“This is, after all, the same party that never supported her appointment from the outset, accusing her of being a spy – a claim they are still failing in court to substantiate two years later.
“It is also the same party that led an ill-fated attempt to have the fifth Parliament institute a similar process. The move is not justified. It is a continuation of efforts to achieve what the DA failed to accomplish the first time around when they did not support her appointment.
“Just like she did last year, she will respond to the case built by the DA should Parliament invite her to have her say,” he said.