Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has a legal right to take a sabbatical leave like any other employee and public servant, according to political analyst Professor Lesiba Teffo.
This after Mkhwebane’s office, in a surprise move on Monday, announced that she had taken a sabbatical until the end of March this year in order to get some rest.
In a statement, spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said Mkhwebane had been on leave since last Friday and that National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise gave her the go-ahead to take some time off. Mkhwebane’s deputy, advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, has taken over her role for the said period.
“Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane has gone on a sabbatical leave to get some rest. The leave commenced on 15 January and will end on 31 March. Such a leave of absence is provided for in the terms and conditions applicable to the position of public protector,” Segalwe said.
Mkhwebane’s sabbatical leave comes amid her expected appearance in court in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Thursday on three counts of perjury related to her controversial report on the apartheid-era loan by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to Bankorp in the 1980s, which was later bought by Absa.
“It is her legal and employment right,” Teffo told The Citizen on Tuesday, saying some of her detractors might question the reasons behind her taking time off given that she also faces a parliamentary impeachment inquiry into her fitness to hold office.
Teffo said the parliamentary process had dragged on for some time and the sabbatical could also help to “ease the pressure on her and allow her supporters to plan and strategise” on how to support the embattled public protector going forward.
The perjury case against Mkhwebane followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court in July 2019 to uphold the North Gauteng High Court’s judgment that found that she was dishonest in her investigation into the Absa lifeboat matter, and she should personally cover 15% of the SARB’s legal costs in the case.
The parliamentary inquiry emanates from the DA’s motion challenging her fitness to hold office due to a string of adverse legal judgments that reviewed and overturned some of her reports.
Mkhwebane approached the Western Cape High Court in October 2020 on an urgent basis to interdict the parliamentary process from going ahead, but the court dismissed her application and subsequent appeal of the case in November.
She has since approached the Constitutional Court to challenge the parliamentary process.