Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist


Mkhwebane inquiry: Evidence leader accused of perpetuating ‘racist stereotype’ of black professionals

Public Protector's legal head Neels van der Merwe said he did not anticipate his evidence being seen as a racial matter.


The evidence leader of the Section 194 inquiry has been accused of perpetuating a “racist stereotype” of black professionals.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office resumed on Thursday.

At the start of the proceedings, evidence leader advocate Nazreen Bawa sought to provide the context to the evidence of Neels van der Merwe, which revealed the amounts paid by the Public Protector’s office to various legal practitioners last week.

This comes after Mkhwebane’s legal representative, advocate Dali Mpofu, on Wednesday criticised the flight of their names, saying this amounted to abuse of black lawyers and advocates.

‘No omission’

Although Bawa conceded on Thursday that some of these amounts were incorrect, she argued that evidence leaders were asked to provide information on Mkhwebane’s reports that had been set aside.

It was in this context, Bawa explained to the committee, that evidence leaders detailed the costs of these cases, adding that her own fees have been the subject of public disclosure. 

“Let me be clear that there was no suggestion on the part of the evidence leaders that there had been looting or thieving by any of the advocates in the evidence put up in relation to the figures.

“It is regrettable and unfortunate that it was couched in that way when it went out to the public domain and it would incorrect based on the evidence led by this committee for such conclusions to be drawn,” she said.

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Bawa also said information about which advocates received money was given in response to a question about how the R147 million spent by the Public Protector’s office over Mkhwebane’s six-year term had been spent. 

She further pointed out that the name of one white legal practitioner was on the list.

“I raise this because of the accusations of some sort of racism and the inference that the evidence leaders sought to shield white advocates,” Bawa continued.

“There was no omission from the list on the basis of race nor did we do this at our own behest. What we did wrong is that some of the figures provided were not correct and we take responsibility for that.”

‘Hijacking’

Two of the advocates whose names were listed, Muzi Sikhakhane and Vuyani Ngalwana, were present to address the committee on the disclosure of their fees.

But before Sikhakhane could do so, the Section 194 inquiry chairperson, Qubudile Dyantyi, claimed that it seemed like the committee was being hijacked.

“It is kind of a hijacking and advocate Mpofu you are responsible for it because you have just introduced them.

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“There’s no way we would allow an planned situation like this and open the door that I will not be able to close for any other who might been aggrieved and have concerns,” he said.

Dyantyi said he preferred anyone who had concerns to address them by writing to the committee. 

While some members of the committee such actions would “open up the floodgates”, Sikhakhane was allowed to address the inquiry for 10 minutes.

‘Stereotype’

Sikhakhane told the committee that he was of the view that Bawa was “creating an impression” that they were looting from the Public Protector’s office.

“We want to categorically state that we reject Ms Bawa’s intended theory to portray black professionals as corrupt. We reject her conduct to use her position in Parliament to project that the figures that we were put up were simply funneled to us by advocate Mkhwebane.”

Sikhakhane also said junior advocates now “fear for their lives” because their family members believed they were corrupt.

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Mpofu claimed on Wednesday that advocates and their children were in danger, because they could now be targeted by criminals.

Meanwhile, Van der Merwe – who is the head of the Public Protector’s legal services department – told the committee that he did not foresee that the listing “would be perceived in a racially derogatory manner”.

“The information that we wanted to submit included names of service providers of all races, not exclusively one race and it was certainly not intentional,” he said.

Recusal

The Public Protector is challenging Dyantyi and (DA) MP Kevin Mileham’s decision not to recuse themselves from the impeachment inquiry.

Mpofu indicated that they have filed a review application and the matter has been set down on the urgent roll of the Western Cape High Court for 13 and 14 December.

A recusal application had previously been filed against Bawa, but the advocate refused to do so as well.

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