Wingardium Busiosa: Mpofu conjures up Mkhwebane’s legal defence in political showdown of the century

Wingardium Busiosa: Mpofu conjures up Mkhwebane’s legal defence in political showdown of the century
Advocate Dali Mpofu. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Alon Skuy)

The hearing into Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office must rank as the political showdown of the century, and her advocate, Dali Mpofu, has risen to the occasion as a courtroom conjurer.

The “protagonists and antagonists” sit at the apex of leadership in South Africa and include a sitting president, a former president, the National Assembly, the judiciary and the head of a Chapter 9 insti­tution tasked with protecting the public from executive and official abuse and overreach.

A more A-list cast in this cutthroat arena of political theatre you do not get.

A 2010 collection of essays titled “Law and Magic”, edited by Christine A  Corocos for the Louisiana State University Law Centre, explores the alchemy of language in legal or quasi-legal proceedings.

Though the Section 194 inquiry into Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office is not a court, elements of courtroom conjuring have been evident from the get-go, with her legal representative, Advocate Dali Mpofu, painting some witnesses as “liars” and “disgruntled employees” out to get “revenge”.

For more than a month, two versions of reality, as well as the limits of truth, have been tested and exposed.

“Lawyers and magicians have a lot in common,” writes Corocos in her foreword.

“Both lawyers and magicians are in the business of telling stories, and of doing a certain amount of misdirection (although lawyers must never lie to the court, and magicians announce from the beginning that lying is what they do best).”

Mpofu is lawyer and magician rolled into one. Earlier, cautioning that the work of the inquiry might well continue past its September deadline, Mpofu argued for a widening of scope to allow for the introduction of new evidence and witnesses including Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. That strategy was soon nipped in the bud by inquiry chair Qubudile Dyantyi.

The political game plan was, at least to judge by Mpofu’s early strategy, taking shape: attack, insult, deflect – and reconjure and polish the narrative that Mkhwebane is the victim of a political witch-hunt.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and her legal counsel, Advocate Dali Mpofu SC, at the Cape Town High Court on 25 July 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Mpofu’s has been a masterclass in gaslighting, cross-examination by omission, facetiousness and nasty ad hominem attack. It is unclear to which gallery Mpofu is playing, but he is playing hard.

With regard to the Vrede Dairy report, Mpofu claimed Mkhwebane had done more in one year than her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, had accomplished in four. That Mkhwebane’s Vrede report had been set aside on review by the courts was not a fact Mpofu deemed important to mention.

The Section 194 inquiry is a public forum, not unlike those in ancient Greece, where citizens – in this instance in the rippling stream of comments from the virtual peanut gallery on the YouTube live stream of the hearings –  freely offer their thoughts.

There are those who cheer Mpofu on and those who loathe him.

One fan, logged in as Nkosi Da Perf, quipped: “Mpofu has been absolutely outstanding. It’s like watching truth being born.”

Queen B was of the opinion that Mpofu “is buying time for his pocket”.

The physical inquiry is taking place in the Marks Building, just a short distance from the forlorn, burnt-out shell of Parliament, razed in January. It is a race against time as the inquiry is scheduled to conclude in September, a month away.

So far, the process to set up the impeachment hearing has been a fiercely litigated one. Mkhwebane’s contract comes to an end in October 2023 and she has vowed to serve out her term. Impeachment could mean a loss of benefits.

The inquiry is the culmination of a shotgun approach to lawfare that has lasted more than two years and cost the Public Protector or her office R67-million in legal challenges.

Advocate Steven Budlender, representing the Democratic Alliance in Mkhwebane’s ongoing Western Cape High Court challenge, read out a list of 21 judges who have ruled against her.

The inquiry also takes place in the aftermath of the final report of the Zondo Commission, which set out how the state was criminally captured.

There are more than 10,000 pages of documents, as well as various damning court findings, including from the Constitutional Court, against Mkhwebane. They include a finding that in the Reserve Bank/CIEX matter, she had acted in “bad faith, misrepresented facts and had peddled a number of falsehoods”.

The EFF and others have made no secret of their support for Mkhwebane and have not contributed a single question of substance so far.

The African Transformation Movement’s leader, Vuyolwethu Zungula, was kicked off the virtual platform this week for theatrically objecting to the return of a witness for cross-examination.

The ultimate impeachment vote will depend on real consideration of and engagement with evidence of Mkhwebane’s misconduct. Voting along partisan lines is bound to happen in this unique moment in South Africa’s history. Stand by. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25. 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    In my view Mpofu only makes her look guilty – or why else is he always trying to mislead or distracting the attention from the real issues then? If he really believed she was innocent (or at least that the charges under consideration are not true) then he would have stuck to that, and not been afraid of confronting the truth. If I was Mkhwebane, I would have fired him, because he is just going to damage her case further.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      But it is not about Mkhwebane ,he sees it as all about him. I will not name his many personal faults as they are so obvious anyway.

    • Penny Sawyer says:

      AbraCadabra- unintelligble language
      Creative none-the-less!
      Performance linked in a court of Law ?is inappropriate hocus pocus . Mpofu is emabarrasing

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      Roelf, she has no case … she is a criminal and should have been fired after the first court setting her findings aside because of incompetence.

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    It is no wonder that ordinary people view the law, and its practitioners, with contempt and loathing. This is not supposed to be showbiz. It it supposed to give us the sense that morality, facts and truth are objective realities.

    As decent people, we are left to try and do the right thing despite, rather than supported by, the frameworks of justice.

    In the end, the massive granite backbone of the legal system is reduced to this: a shoddy trellis of twigs held together by nothing more than ego, lies and bluster.

  • Thiru Pillay says:

    Symbolically, the backdrop in this high-budget drama, may comprise an A-list of figures , as the author points out in her opening paragraph.
    In reality, taking centre stage are mere B-grade actors, most notably the unsuccessful PP and her Hubris-afflicted legal representative.
    The latter, Dali Mpofu, is no magician. You give him too much credit.
    He ad-libs from one helpless witness/victim to another, more concerned about the phrasing of cheap insults and the theatrics than the end result, which ought to be to win the case. He also has a bizarre interpretation for the law – court rulings are mere opinions??
    Thus far, there has been no credible argument put forward by him to save his client.
    Numerous high ranking judges, in various court rulings, have already consigned the PP’s defence to the scrapheap.
    This high – budget drama is heading towards one conclusion, given the numerical composition of the committee – impeachment. Which, to me, sounds logical.
    However, I wish the process were more expedient, it would be less expensive.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Why concern with ‘expense’ … when the public in all probability is funding it ! It certainly fattens the pocket of the ‘advocate’… irrespective of outcome. If the LPC had any sense, they would have banned (for life) him from practising as one … long ago ! In America it took them until well after his retirement, to suspend the license of Guilliani and his antics. From the little I know of the ‘law’ are there no ‘instructing attorneys’ … in on this deal of shamelessly ripping off the public ? Surely the public has the right to know this ?

    • Hermann Funk says:

      You are hitting the nail on its head.

  • Lorinda Winter says:

    ‘Voting along partisan lines’ and there you have it, in a nutshell. The ANC cadres voted her in they will not vote her out and in the meantime we have to listen to the truly ridiculous, laughable Mpofu with his ‘questions’. Oh wait I don’t understand. In Sotho this is regarded as clever.

  • Margaret Jensen says:

    Well said by all 3 comments. It’s shameful that so much money has been spent to try to defend the PP.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Mpofu is a wicked twisted little nothing-nik outside a courtroom, where he is protected by the law and procedures, but thoroughly abuses them and doesn’t give a damn about them. All he does is insults, bullies and intimidates his opponents in the hope they they will crumble at the tirade levelled at them. This is a hideous and immoral individual who makes millions by defending the most vile and wayward thieves and scumbags, often at taxpayers expense and derails progress to move on that this country desperately needs by delaying justice ad infinitum. I have nothing but utter contempt and revulsion for this evil and pathetic parasite.

  • Ian Callender-Easby says:

    Mpofu is his own worst enemy. (Fortunately & thankfully he is not concerned about winning, just billable hours from lost causes) 😅

  • Clyde Smith says:

    Marianne Thamm, I have always believed you were a good and competent journalist, so I don’t know what to make of this bizarre article; there is absolutely no evidence of any kind of magic whatsoever in Dali Mpofu’s incompetent performance. In every single case he is ever involved in he exudes the persona of a clueless buffoon. As for the pseudonym he has created, Nkosi Da Perf, quipping some nonsense: the definition of a quip is a witty remark – what on earth is witty about that ridiculous drivel? Unless of course, it is satire.

  • Rob vZ says:

    “It is unclear to which gallery Mpofu is playing, but he is playing hard.” Your taxes, my bank account.

  • Anne Felgate says:

    The evidence coming to light and implicating politicians can be used?
    Hope the NPA take note and proceed with their own enquiries
    Mpofu is a disappointment as he could be a role model

  • Vic Langkilde says:

    It is criminal that the state is paying her legal fees. If she paid her own fees it would not be costing the tax payer (State) a cent. She would have given up this ridiculous farce.
    She is guilty and should be treated as such!

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