Despite such career highlights as being elected president of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA) this year, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has not had many praise singers among politicians, professionals and the media.
In his column published in Business Day this week, analyst Tom Eaton points out the general view of South Africans that the office of the public protector is “a hot mess”.
“The clean, clear, austere institution that Thuli Madonsela established seems to have dissolved in a soup of controversy, mistrust, political interference and confusion,” says Eaton.
But he goes on to laud the public protector for dealing a humbling blow to two politicians who were equally reviled by their political opponents and adored by their supporters.
He was referring to the adverse findings revealed in two reports Mkhwebane released this month, against Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille and ANC campaign head Fikile Mbalula.
Mbalula was found to have violated the ethics code after accepting a paid holiday trip to Dubai when he was sports minister in 2016.
Mkhwebane found that Sedgars and SVG Legal and Forensic Services paid for the five-day Dubai trip.
On the same day, Mkhwebane released adverse findings in a separate matter against National Treasury director-general, Dondo Mogajane, recommending that President Cyril Ramaphosa institute disciplinary proceedings against him.
This after she found that he violated the ethics code of his office by accepting the gift of a Maserati from the South African National Taxi Association.
The investigations she took on this year did not garner the same levels of doubt about her alleged political leanings as the scandalous Absa Bank/Bankorp case, in which she recommended that the Special Investigative Unit recover more than R1 billion from the bank for a bailout she found it illegally received from the apartheid government.
Early this year, this report and its remedial action was set aside by a full bench in the High Court in Pretoria.
She was heavily criticised for apparently failing to understand the boundaries of her office when she recommended that parliament consider changing the constitution in order to augment the mandate of the Reserve Bank to include protecting the poor.
But as she seemed to emphasize in her final address for the year, Mkhwebane ended the year on a generally positive note.
She said she was surprised by the accolade of being elected president of a continental body which overseas the public protector offices of 44 African states. The election took place on November 30 at the AOMA general assembly in Kigali, Rwanda.
She has taken it as a “huge vote of confidence” by her colleagues.
But back at home, critics doubt she possesses the same intellectual and leadership prowess as her predecessor.
However, she could take back some of the confidence she lost from the public through her efforts elsewhere. That is if she can handle both jobs with equal aptitude.
As president, she will preside over all AOMA meetings, from the biennial general assemblies to executive committee meetings, and the general supervision of the affairs and operations of the association.