Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is crying foul over her impending suspension by President Cyril Ramaphosa, accusing him of having a conflict of interest in the matter.
Ramaphosa on Thursday wrote to her to give her 10 days to provide reasons why she should not be suspended.
Mkhwebane is also facing an impeachment process in parliament after a DA motion in 2020 questioning her competence after a number of court rulings emanating from challenges to her reports went against her.
In a speech prepared for her to deliver to the Unisa student chapter of the South African Women Lawyers Association on Saturday, Mkhwebane says Ramaphosa is conflicted on the matter.
She did not read her prepared speech verbatim at the event and declined a Sunday Times request for an interview.
In the prepared speech she says she wrote to the speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, raising the matter of parliament’s “haste” to deal with her impeachment.
“My legal representative yesterday wrote to the speaker [to note] my displeasure at how things have turned out in respect of how the matter was handled but also to raise my concerns about the continued unfairness of the impeachment process and the case against me, which is entirely based on the challenges I have outlined above,” Mkhwebane’s prepared speech reads.
“One of the points we highlight in the letter to the speaker, which was dispatched to her office yesterday, is the clear conflict in the president who is and has been the subject of investigations I am leading — a conflict the president himself has admitted to under oath during litigation — pondering the idea of suspending me.”
She says she questioned why parliament would not hold back until the rescission application that is before the Constitutional Court is disposed of.
“Why does parliament appear to be bent on riding roughshod over this process despite its own rules prohibiting the discussion of matters that are sub judice? Once again we appeal to the speaker to be even-handed, independent and impartial in executing her duties. These issues can and must be resolved amicably.
“There is absolutely no need to rush as haste tends to involve trampling on other people’s rights. That said, I am still consulting with the legal team on any eventuality, and on the response to the president’s letter,” the speech reads.
Also yesterday, Mkhwebane reportedly told journalists in East London that the process followed to have her removed was unlawful.
In her prepared speech, she criticises those calling her incompetent.
“The assessment of the performance of any other organisation is linked to its purpose for existence. For instance, if you want to establish if Eskom performs, you check if they are able to keep the lights on, not if they have lost any cases in court. Similarly, if you wish to establish if the police perform, you check if they are succeeding in the fight against crime; not if they are winning the civil claims lodged against them.
“Sadly, when it comes to the public protector, an odd yardstick is used. Critics don’t establish if we investigate, report on and remedy alleged and suspected improper conduct in state affairs as envisaged in section 182.
“Instead, they ask how many cases have you won or lost in court? For them, it all boils down to those less-than-20 reports of ours which have been set aside and the eight that we have successfully defended — a fraction of the around 70,000 matters that have passed through our hands.”
She slams those accusing her of being part of the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation faction.
“We get accused of being ‘hired guns’ and players in the political arena, or labelled ‘RET forces’ by the very same executive and their supporters when we are merely doing our work. It gets worse when the same executives are media and civil society darlings. This gives them a free [rein] to carry on unabated, with impunity.”
We get accused of being ‘hired guns’ and players in the political arena, or labelled ‘RET forces’ by the very same executive and their supporters when we are merely doing our work
Part of Mkhwebane’s speech
Mkhwebane’s speech ends with her telling the students that, should they find themselves heading the office of the public protector, they should be prepared to defend themselves.
“When you are in that position, defend yourself to the bitter end. As you do, be prepared to lose, to be vilified, to be turned into a laughing stock and even to be bankrupted. As I am.”
Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said the public protector had concluded her roadshow, which started mid-February, in the Eastern Cape on Friday.
However she was expected to return to KwaZulu-Natal because they had not concluded their visit there.
He said the aim of the roadshow was for Mkhwebane to engage leadership of provincial governments, legislature leadership and traditional leaders.
“The aim was to bring to their attention a number of investigation reports that have never been challenged in court, nor implemented. Also to reveal pending investigations in that particular province and the kind of issues that people are bringing up,” said Segalwe.
He said they were also raising issues around non-responsive provincial departments and some who were giving incomplete information to the public protector.