News / Opinion / Columns

Sydney Majoko
3 minute read
26 Mar 2019
9:35 am

The public protector has a problem, indeed

Sydney Majoko

In her pursuing an old case against Pravin Gordhan when Eskom needs all hands on deck, it is easy to think she’s part of a Zuma fightback plan.

When South Africa first had load shedding there was a positive spin: economic growth was so good that the addition of new businesses onto the grid was putting a strain on the electricity supply.

Eskom had to shed the extra load to remain stable enough to supply everyone. The country was a victim of its own economic success aided by poor planning around Eskom.

The present stage four load shedding has nothing to do with strain on the grid. Simply put, Eskom has reached a stage where it cannot supply all citizens with basic electricity continuously, hence the blackouts. Yes, blackouts. Not load shedding. And in the middle of these blackouts, the country’s hard-working public protector deems it necessary to pursue the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, on former Sars boss Ivan Pillay’s almost decade-old case of early retirement payout.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to link the dots. Gordhan is smack in the middle of the electricity blackout crisis. He represents the country’s best chance of getting some sort of a turnaround at the power utility, even if it’s just temporarily.

The country needs all hands on deck on this one, yet Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane finds this a very convenient time to summons Gordhan to her office to face allegations that he acted corruptly in approving Pillay’s early retirement payout in 2010. The timing plays right into suggestions that she is central to the fightback strategy the Zuma camp has been pursuing against the current administration.

This fightback sees Gordhan as the man who took the vital cog out of the state capture looting machinery.

Let’s not forget that fired head of Sars Tom Moyane has also applied for the right to cross-examine Gordhan at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. No one should be above reproach. So if there really is a case for Gordhan to answer, he mustn’t be spared.

The case being pursued by the public protector against Gordhan has been dealt with before. Even Zuma acolyte Shaun Abrahams declined to prosecute Gordhan on this very case when he was head of the National Prosecuting Authority. It is hard to believe that Mkhwebane and her team have come up with new evidence of impropriety on Gordhan’s part. If he is being pursued without new evidence, the public protector’s actions are simply malicious.

Recently, Mkhwebane cried crocodile tears about state institutions ignoring her suggested remedial actions on a large number of cases. She lamented that she was being ignored and her office was not getting the respect due to it. She is right. The respect that Thuli Madonsela had painstakingly earned that office during her term has been corroded in two short years.

That is why when she pursued another concocted case against Treasury Director-General Dondo Mogajane, it was easy for Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to say: “I think the public protector has a problem. I’m saying this as strongly as I can, knowing fully well that the office of the public protector is a constitutional structure … but the incumbent [Mkhwebane] has a problem…”

Without her declaring why she pursues old cases like these, the public is left to make up its own mind – and it is not beyond imagination to think she’s part of a fightback plan.

Sydney Majoko.

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