Busisiwe Mkhhwebane said it was a shame and disappointing that Thuli Madonsela chose not to support the embattled Public Protector’s claims about the tremendous amount of political pressure she has endured as the Chapter 9 institution’s head by powerful ministers in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.
Speaking at the Section 194 parliamentary inquiry into her fitness to hold office, Mkhwebane told MPs that she had specifically requested the committee to subpoena the former Public Protector as a witness to the inquiry hoping not only would she relate to the intense hostility from Cabinet members under scrutiny, but that she would also corroborate the suspended incumbent’s assertions of a persecution crusade by senior ANC leaders in government and the legislature.
The suspended Public Protector also expected Madonsela to speak openly about the same torrid experiences she had to endure during her tenure at the helm of the powerful Chapter 9 institution, especially when managing high-profile investigations.
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We called my predecessor to come here and be the witness. I’m the one who said, ‘please can we include her’, because I was expecting her to deal with what she was going through. If you see how some members of the justice portfolio committee used to treat her, deal with her and insult her. I thought she would understand the position I am in today.
“I was disappointed because I thought she would speak sense to some of the members of the committee and inform them that it is not easy doing this kind of work. You are second-guessed, you are insulted, and it is as if you are going around looking to find people guilty,” added Mkhwebane.
She said although she was participating in the inquiry “under protest”, she believed that her testimony and that of Madonsela along with their lived experiences at the helm of the Public Protector’s Office could help lawmakers and government officials understand how to better protect future Public Protectors to the institution.
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I felt shame, and I felt we should help each other – my sister’s keeper. I feel very sad because with all the persecution I have been facing, you are trying to uplift people and trying to show that there are root causes in the system, which, generation after generation, you will still face the same challenges.
She added: “I felt she could relate to what I am going through currently. The warnings came from my late mother who saw how she was treated. I thought she would come and put issues into perspective after going through that hostility.
“My successors in title, I wouldn’t want them to go through the same thing.”
Madonsela was seen as a key witness by both Mkhwebane and the parliamentary inquiry evidence leaders given that both had the former Public Protector at the top of their witness lists.
MPs appointed to the hearing heeded Mkhwebane’s request to subpoena Madonsela after it was agreed that her evidence would shed light on several operational issues and investigations started by her but never concluded as her term of office ended.
The erstwhile Public Protector gave evidence to committee members last week during a heated exchange between herself and Mkhwebane’s attorney, Advocate Dali Mpofu.
On Wednesday, Mkhwebane told the committee that she believed Madonsela had done her job “the best way she knows how, and the vilification was not justified against her and the body shaming”.
“I thought she would also come to my rescue, but it is as if you wanted to embarrass her. I think people took it as if we are in a fight. Sometimes, it was more of not being cooperative, but we were trying to show that whatever was happening to her is still happening to this day,” she said.
Mkhwebane told MPs at the inquiry that she was convinced that she was being targeted by Ramaphosa, with the help of the DA through its appeal on the full bench judgment of the Western Cape High Court that found Ramaphosa’s decision to suspend her was “was hurried in nature”.
In court, my legal team and the president’s legal team agreed that they would give me a heads up and that never happened.
“Within the same day, the DA wrote a letter with the intention to appeal that judgment.
“I couldn’t go back to the office. I was ready to go back to the office and continue to do the work which I am being paid for, which I enjoy,” she said.
Mkhwebane added that the appeal was an effort by Ramaphosa and the DA to suppress her office from following up on the African Transformation Movement’s (ATM) complaint that resulted in the beastly list of 31 questions sent by the Public Protector to the head of state to answer allegations that he stashed millions in undeclared foreign currency at his now infamous Phala Phala game farm.
Mkhwebane explained that the ATM’s complaint for a probe into the president’s dealings was brought, using the Executive Members Ethics Act (EMEA) that governs the conduct of Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and provincial executives.
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The Phala Phala scandal unfolded when allegations of money laundering and tax evasion were made against Ramaphosa when details of a heist emerged that burglars scored millions of US dollars at his exclusive resort.
Former spy boss and ex-Correctional Services national commissioner Arthur Fraser exposed the details of the burglary and alleged a cover-up in an explosive dossier, detailing how the president and his allies allegedly tried to keep a lid on the news of Ramaphosa’s farm robbery.
Mkhwebane told MPs that she initiated a Public Protector’s investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by Ramaphosa after “a complaint was lodged”.
“It’s not me who went all out and said, ‘bring me the complaint’.
“That complaint was unique because not any member of the public can lodge a complaint against the president in terms of the EMEA. The matter was lodged by the ATM in June last year,” she said.
Mkhwebane explained that Ramaphosa suspended her a day after she sent him the 31 questions to answer on the ATM’s complaint. She said she found out about her suspension on television when her then two-year-old saw her picture on the screen.
“It was just the two of us and I told him I’m suspended. No one called me, and no one warned me. We were very shocked.
“All parties were informed that the judgment would be delivered on June 10 2022. The president went ahead a day before and couldn’t wait for the courts.
“He pre-empted the decision of the court by suspending me,” she said.
Mpofu added: “We are awaiting the judgment eagerly. If the matter is successful, then the Constitutional Court will confirm the high court judgment and hopefully the following day, you will go to the office.”