PUBLIC PROTECTOR IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY
Mkhwebane viewed politically sensitive Ramaphosa investigation as ‘a chess game’ – former COO Baloyi
A cryptic WhatsApp message about ‘playing chess’ with President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the things that ‘worried’ Basani Baloyi about suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
A former chief operating officer at the Office of the Public Protector (PP), Basani Baloyi, has told the Section 194 inquiry into the fitness of Busisiwe Mkhwebane to hold office that Mkhwebane’s comment about “playing chess” with regard to an investigation into President Cyril Ramaphosa had “worried her”.
Baloyi worked for about eight months at the PP’s office in 2019 before she claims she was “purged”, along with several other officials, by the now-suspended Mkhwebane and her CEO, Vussy Mahlangu.
The chess-playing analogy came up in a WhatsApp message from Mkhwebane to Baloyi on 26 May 2019 which read: “Coo. I worked with a few people to deal with the sabotage of the PG [Pravin Gordhan] camp, the notice almost ready for rogue, will issue this week and report will also be issued in the manner I will determine.
“The notice for the President is also ready, will call him this week to discuss the notice. It is not about you but one has to play the chess.”
Baloyi told the committee that her impression after receiving the message was that “a political game was being played”.
A day after Mkhwebane’s message to Baloyi about the Gordhan “sabotage”, she sent a further communication stating: “We meeting CR [Cyril Ramaphosa] on 30 May at 3pm at mahlamba. You part of the team, will give you hard copy to read and shred after.”
The Public Protector was, at the time, deeply involved in investigating an alleged donation of R500,000 by Bosasa’s Gavin Watson to the CR17 “presidential” campaign.
“I had to go to Mahlamba Ndlopfu [the President’s home in the Bryntirion Estate in Pretoria] to deliver the Section 79. I was given a hard copy. One is usually given a soft copy.
“To be told to shred it was the worst thing. In that office, we never shredded most of the reports. For it to be shred was an anomaly,” Baloyi told the committee.
She said that during an interview with Watson earlier he had explained that he had merely been a “sandwich in the story and that he had also donated funds to the NDZ [Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma] campaign as well as other political parties and individuals”.
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This line of investigation was shut down and, said Baloyi, when she had looked at the first draft of the record in the CR17 investigation, this had not been recorded. The focus of the report was Ramaphosa.
The DA and its then leader, Mmusi Maimane, lodged the original complaint with the PP to investigate the relationship between Watson and Ramaphosa specifically.
At some point, said Baloyi, there had been a suggestion that the National Prosecuting Authority be roped into a wider investigation, but Mkhwebane had responded that this would not “deliver the results I want”.
With regard to an investigation into Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride and others involving the appointment of a deputy director, Baloyi said McBride had been the target.
Baloyi said the feeling in the PP’s office was that McBride was likely to be nominated as Deputy Public Protector and that “we need to eliminate him from the system”.
In June, Judge Harshilabhen Koovertjie, in the Pretoria High Court, vindicated McBride and Ipid investigators Matthews Sesoko, Nomkhosi Netsianda, Marianne Moroasui, Baatseba Mothale, Innocent Kuba, David de Bruin and Thereza Botha, reviewing and setting aside findings and remedial action imposed by Mkhwebane in a 2019 report on the members.
Judge Koovertjie found that a “reasonable bias” existed with the appointment of Vusi Dlamini by Mkhwebane as an investigator in the matter.
Dlamini had previously worked with Crime Intelligence operative Cedrick Nkabinde, who had lodged the original complaint with the PP.
Baloyi said she realised that interference in the investigation into Gugu Nkwinti, a former minister of agriculture, was related in some way to the permanent appointment of CEO Mahlangu to the PP’s office.
Mahlangu at the time did not have top-level security clearance and was awaiting the outcome of disciplinary proceedings related to his position of deputy director-general at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
The charge by Baloyi is that Mahlangu, apart from acting as Mkhwebane’s enforcer, had interfered with the investigation into Nkwinti.
Asked by evidence leader Ncumisa Mayosi whether Mkhwebane had been aware of Mahlangu’s interference in the Nkwinti investigation, Baloyi replied: “I had told her so.”
The draft report into Nkwinti, said Baloyi, had implicated Mahlangu and he had wanted her to exculpate him. DM