Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane remains defiant as parliament explores the establishment of mechanisms to remove sitting heads of Chapter 9 institutions.
“I’m not worried about that. I believe I will finish my term in office. I will not allow any distractions. My eyes remain fixed on taking the services of this institution to the grassroots,” Mkhwebane said on Tuesday.
She was speaking to University of South Africa law students at the seventh annual spring law conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Mkhwebane used yet another public platform to hit out at her detractors and the media.
The public protector’s continued stay has been an eyesore for many in the country, including President Cyril Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, whom she has made damning findings against.
The DA has also placed a target on her back, seeking to have her removed from office but the process of questioning Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office and to have her ultimately removed has not been as easy, with the justice and correctional services portfolio committee recently having taken a decision to refer the process to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise as there are no clear rules on how this can be done.
Mkhwebane, who described the criticism against her and the bid to have her removed from office as “just a side show”, said many were waiting for her office to come to their aid.
When speaking of the media, she claimed it had sought to create an image of an office obsessed with plotting against some of the big political names in the country.
“Whereas the news media will have you believe that we spend our entire time setting traps for big political players, trying at all costs to nail them, the truth is that matters such as the four cases above form the bulk of our caseload at any given time,” said Mkhwebane, referring to cases in which her office had successfully intervened.
These included helping a family of 12 in Marble Hall in Limpopo move into a new fully furnished home, and getting the water supply restored at the home of a 98-year-old Musina grandmother who had been without water for two months after the municipality cut it off.
Mkhwebane told the students she believed these cases, which she said made up the bulk of her office’s work, were not reported on because they were not “draw cards” and could not get audiences to tune into news platforms.
The public protector, who has had some of her significant reports overturned through judicial reviews and has been slapped with personal cost orders over some cases by the courts, including the Constitutional Court, ventured into explaining its role and how her office related to the judiciary.
“Review applications have been weaponised and stigmatised. Whereas, ordinarily, a review [like an appeal] is an option available to the aggrieved to try another forum in search of a different outcome and should not be seen as an indictment on the decision maker in the disputed outcome,” said Mkhwebane.
She added that in her case, reviews have been used as a “yardstick” to measure her level of competence.
Mkhwebane lost when the court found Ramaphosa was correct to wait for a review, taken against her by Gordhan, to be finalised before implementing her remedial action.
She had found the minister’s decision, while still serving as a South African Revenue of Services (Sars) commissioner, to grant former deputy Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay an early pension payout was irregular and ordered the president to take disciplinary action against Gordhan.
Gordhan’s own bid to have an interim order on the report was granted against the public protector.
The Constitutional Court ruled against her, with costs, when she attempted to appeal a High Court judgment over her investigation into the South African Reserve Bank, Absa and Bankorp matter.
The public protector said when she lost reviews, those rulings were waved around as “proof of incompetence”.
“Which boggles the mind because when a judgment is successfully appealed, the judge that would have written it is never accused of incompetence.
“There are judges who sent people to long prison terms only for the courts to come back many years later to set the affected inmates free on the grounds that they were wrongly convicted,” said Mkhwebane, emphasising her point and complaining that she was slapped with punitive personal cost orders.