- Busisiwe Mkhwebane racked up a R3.7 million rental bill as “threats to her life” were used to motivate her staying inside the Bryntirion Estate.
- Mkhwebane still stays in the apartment that her office is paying R11 000 a month for.
- At the same time, the Public Protector cut security in three provinces, which make do with minimal security due to “resource constraints”.
Taxpayers paid R3.7 million for suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to live alongside ministers in the government’s Bryntirion Estate in Pretoria, while she owned her own house in the capital city.
All of this was done in the name of “security risks” after a threats assessment was performed by former police chief General Khehla Sitole when he was divisional commissioner for protection and security services in 2017. Sitole’s recommendation to move Mkhwebane into Bryntirion was approved by then public works minister Nathi Nhleko.
Nhleko, as police minister, was instrumental in approving upgrades to former president Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla compound.
Mkhwebane’s predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, lived in her private house in a security estate in Pretoria throughout her term and was only provided with two police protectors a year after taking office.
After taking office as Public Protector, Mkhwebane sold personal properties worth over R3 million that were situated close to the Public Protector’s office in Pretoria and bought properties in Ballito and Bronkhorstspruit to the value of R7 million.
Mkhwebane, who is facing an impeachment hearing by Parliament, still stays in an apartment in Bryntirion, the official government village where President Cyril Ramaphosa and his executive stay, for which the Office of the Public Protector pays R11 000 a month.
Between 2017 and August 2021 she lived in a Bryntirion house at a cost of over R60 000 per month.
According to the public works department, the minimum requirements before an individual can be considered as a candidate to occupy a residence in Bryntirion entail that the person should form part of or be:
- The executive, in other words, a minister or deputy minister;
- Chief Justice;
- Deputy Chief Justice;
- Presiding Officers of the National Assembly, together the National Council of Provinces and their deputies; or
- Chairperson of traditional leaders.
“In October 2017, the [department] was requested by the office of the divisional commissioner for protection services (Sitole), to provide secured residence for the Public Protector, advocate Mkhwebane, due to a heightened risk level the Public Protector was exposed to, as determined by SAPS Security Risk Assessment. It is in this context that the department allocated a state residence to the Public Protector,” a public works spokesperson told News24.
“Although advocate Mkhwebane does not form part of the aforementioned list, an exception was made in her case following the threat assessment that was reviewed by the (Sitole), which was endorsed by the then minister, Nathi Nhleko.”
The threat assessment was reviewed by the SAPS in July 2020, that informed public works security measures around Mkhwebane should be maintained.
One senior source in the Public Protector’s office confirmed to News24 that this arrangement was potentially unlawful, as the position of Public Protector did not afford any individual such perks.
“She should have read the Nkandla report [written by her predecessor, Madonsela] and then said she wanted nothing to do with it,” the source said. “Regardless of the threat assessment, the benefit was illegal, and she must pay that money back,” they said.
Public purse unprotected
The Office of the Public Protector confirmed to News24 that it had paid R3.7 million to public works for Mkhwebane’s housing: R1.9 million in the 2021/2022 financial year and R1.8 million in previous financial years.
So far, in the 2022/2023 financial year, which started on 1 April 2022, the office has paid R33 000 for Mkhwebane’s apartment rental, Public Protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed.
Residents of Bryntirion do not have any household expenses – gardening services, internet and DSTV are all covered by public works, News24 understands, which is also responsible for the maintenance on the properties inside the estate.
“The arrangement was informed by security considerations in terms of the SAPS protocols,” Segalwe said.
He also confirmed that the expenditure on housing for Mkhwebane came from the operational budget of the office and that Mkhwebane received a housing allowance.
As per government gazette, dated 15 July 2021, Mkhwebane earned R2.3 million total remuneration per year, which includes various allowances.
The threat assessment
The Office of the Public Protector now says it has asked General Fannie Masemola, the new police chief, for a copy of Mkhwebane’s threats assessment because it was not in possession of a copy.
“It [the housing arrangement] was for security purposes. Please take this up with the SAPS as Adv Mkhwebane is a client of the SAPS, specifically the VIP Protection and Security Services division,” said Segalwe, responding to questions over the necessity of the arrangement.
“The [Office of the Public Protector] has requested the SAPS, through the national commissioner, to clarify the issue as the office is not in possession of the assessment,” Segalwe said of the outcome of the threat assessment.
Asked why the Public Protector would cancel security at provincial offices, while Mkhwebane was securely living in comfort, Segalwe said he could not reveal the security measures at provincial offices.
“However, security in those offices is not at the level where the (Public Protector) is happy with. The (office) is currently conducting a security assessment at offices across the provinces, with the help of the SAPS, to determine where it can be improved within the office’s limited resources,” Segalwe said.
Personal property transactions
While the Office of the Public Protector has been cutting expenditure on security at its offices in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West due to budget constraints, Mkhwebane has purchased two luxury properties worth nearly R7 million since 2019, according to deeds office records.
In February 2022, Mkhwebane bought a R4.7 million, 1 300 square metre home inside an upmarket estate, with spectacular views of the Bronkhorstspruit Dam, an hour’s drive from Pretoria. The property is bonded for R3.7 million.
In May 2019, she purchased a R2.5 million unit, inside an estate in Ballito on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, which is bonded for R2.2 million.
This came after she sold two private properties in Pretoria.
In June 2021, Mkhwebane sold a property, inside Pebble Rock Golf Estate, just outside Pretoria, for R2.5 million. She had purchased an empty stand in the development in 2014, for R300 000. Satellite images show that a significant house was built on the property, which is situated about 30 kilometres from the Public Protector’s office.
In 2018, she sold a flat in Zambezi Gardens Estate, also near the office, for R550 000.
Mkhwebane declined to respond to questions.
News24 pointed out that she owned properties near her office in Pretoria, and purchased homes far from her work, while the Office of the Public Protector footed a large rental bill for the Bryntirion properties.
She was also asked why she should not reimburse the office for these costs as security concerns could have been mitigated by upgrading security at her own properties.
Her office confirmed that Mkhwebane also has a personal protection detail provided by the SAPS.
“Please direct all these questions to SAPS about all the above, which led to threat to my life. Further, desist from publishing all these private information, which poses a security threat to my life. I reserve my right to take legal action against you should this be published,” she said via email on Saturday.
She did not respond to further requests urging her to comment.
According to sources in the office, with knowledge of events during Madonsela’s tenure, the previous Public Protector faced repeated death threats and numerous burglaries at properties she owned, but was never moved onto a government property.
After one burglary in 2009, a security company was put in place at Madonsela’s private property by the then CEO, but this was withdrawn within weeks as the office could not lawfully spend the money.
Madonsela, who fought for a year after being appointed to get her own SAPS protection detail, moved into a secure estate at “exorbitant rent” to counter the security risks she and her family faced. She paid the rent from her own pocket.