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A NEW LEASE OF STRIFE

Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s rent-free days in lush ministerial estate are over

Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s rent-free days in lush ministerial estate are over
Suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

The Office of the Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) will no longer pay rent to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) for suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s accommodation in the exclusive Bryntirion ministerial estate in Pretoria.

So far, taxpayers have forked out about R4-million for Mkhwebane’s private accommodation.

In March, Daily Maverick revealed that Mkhwebane had initially moved into a R55,000-a-month house on the Bryntirion Estate in February 2017.  This escalated to more than R60,000 in 2020.

In mid-2021, while staring down possible impeachment and suffering defeat after costly defeat in the courts, Mkhwebane relocated to a three-bedroom duplex adjacent to the estate reserved for deputy ministers. This cost the PPSA R11,000 a month.

On Tuesday, Ndili Msoki, the acting spokesperson for the PPSA, said the institution “wished to place it on record” that it had notified the DPWI “of its intention to terminate a lease agreement for immovable property entered into by the PPSA and the DPWI”. 

This was being done, said Msoki, “to rectify the obligation of who bears the financial costs of Adv Mkhwebane’s accommodation, in line with the relevant applicable institutional policy as well as Adv Mkhwebane’s conditions of service”.

Busted by the media 

He said the PPSA had begun its investigation into Mkhwebane’s cosy rent arrangement with the office she headed prior to her being placed on suspension in April and also as a result of media enquiries and reports.

Mkhwebane was not being “evicted”, said Msoki, as she was allowed to “continue to occupy the residence, should she elect to do so, in her personal capacity and at her own cost”.

This decision was in line with “what was initially intended by the arrangement”, said Msoki.

This statement by the PPSA suggests the original lease agreement may not have foreseen the PPSA footing the bill for Mkhwebane’s private residence.

Mkhwebane has subsequently responded that she will be vacating the premises, but would require a “letter of confirmation” from the SAPS that the police had been informed, “about my vacating the residence and confirming that I am no longer under any high-risk category by November 5”.

It was Nathi Nhleko, the then minister of public works and infrastructure, and the man who defended Jacob Zuma’s “fire pool”, who had given permission for Mkhwebane to move into Bryntirion.

This was after a threat assessment by the SAPS. But the arrangement clearly stated this would be a temporary move for 12 months only and that Mkhwebane would have to pay rent out of her own pocket.

When and how the PPSA came to foot the bill has not been explained.

Mkhwebane, as an advocate and the head of an independent Chapter 9 institution tasked with oversight of the executive, surely should have considered the conflict of interest that might arise should she move into the ministerial estate at the time. 

Besides, the estate is meant for the exclusive use of ministers and deputy ministers — according to the Ministerial Handbook. 


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Trumpesque

The suspended PP’s former spokesperson Oupa Segalwe told Daily Maverick at the time that: “[The Public] Protector is a client of the SAPS, specifically the VIP Protection and Security Services division. Accordingly, the matter of her residence was arranged in terms of SAPS protocols and not the Ministerial Handbook. 

“Needless to say, she is not subject to the Ministerial Handbook by virtue of not being a member of the executive. It follows, therefore, that she cannot violate a policy that does not apply to her,” said Segalwe.

However, a legal opinion obtained by the PPSA found that Mkhwebane’s conditions of employment and perks did not include access to prestigious state-owned accommodation.

The PPSA did not comment on Mkhwebane’s allegation that CEO Thandi Sibanyoni, as the “accounting officer”, had signed off on the lease.

Mkhwebane, in a five-page letter addressed to Sibanyoni and Deputy Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka and leaked to The Star, appears to suggest Sibanyoni should take the fall.

“Sibanyoni attended a meeting where this was clarified to her by one of the divisional commissioners [of the SAPS], a few weeks after she joined the PPSA. She is better placed to provide more information as the person who eventually signed the lease agreements for the PP’s residence,” Mkhwebane said.

Mkhwebane claimed Sibanyoni should have sought legal opinion “before signing the lease”.

“If there is any irregularity, she should account for it accordingly,” said the suspended PP.

Enter Khehla Sitole

The Bryntirion Estate contains 28 properties including the President’s residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, as well as OR Tambo House (the deputy president’s residence), 15 tennis courts, a nine-hole presidential golf course and a helipad.

In 2017, the then Department of Public Works had been requested by the SAPS’s office of the divisional commissioner for protection services to “provide a secured residence for the Public Protector”.

The head of the services at the time happened to be Lieutenant General Khehla Sitole. Nine months later, in November 2017, Sitole was appointed national commissioner by Zuma.

He vacated the job “by mutual agreement” with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the end of March 2022 after the Johannesburg High Court found he had breached his duties, putting the interests of the ANC ahead of those of the country.

In March 2020, four months before the SAPS “security reassessment” of the Public Protector’s circumstances, Mkhwebane found herself tied up in a court scrap with her new neighbour at ​​Bryntirion, Ramaphosa.

A setback was suffered when the high court reviewed and set aside Mkhwebane’s investigation and report into the “CR17 campaign”. The court also set aside the Public Protector’s findings and remedial action and ordered her to pay costs. 

The report Mkhwebane is itching to get her hands on is the investigation of the break-in and theft of foreign currency at Ramaphosa’s game farm Phala Phala.

It was Arthur Fraser, a former boss of Mkhwebane at the State Security Agency, with whom she maintained contact throughout her tenure, who reported the matter to the police in June this year.

The ANC has been at war with itself ever since.

The matter has been suitably weaponised in the year of an ANC election with an independent Section 89 independent panel set up to review evidence. The panel is headed by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. The panel will study submissions, also from Ramaphosa, related to the scandal.

In the meantime, it is not clear whether the office of the PPSA will attempt to recover the R4-million-odd Mkhwebane owes the institution. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    “However, a legal opinion obtained by the PPSA found that Mkhwebane’s conditions of employment and perks did not include access to prestigious state-owned accommodation”.
    How much did that “legal opinion” cost, considering all the lawyer had to do was read the contact and see if the perks included free rent. One also wonders if tax was paid on the benefit in kind.

  • Angus Auchterlonie says:

    It’s about time these taxmoney-guzzling Stalingrad Defenders started paying their own way! Perhaps footing their own bills will start to limit their endless and futile extensions of legal proceedings!

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    “Pay back the money!” Hey, Juju? Where is your loud and angry voice on this one? Oh, I forgot, you went from “I’ll die for Zuma” to “Pay back the money!” to “Tea? Thank you uBaba – two sugars and a VBS account, for me.”

  • Gavin Brown says:

    Meanwhile, 15% of every we pay for at the supermarket continues to feed the beast ?

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Baby steps it may be – but this is a GOOD thing!

  • Anne Felgate says:

    She really is a piece of work
    She does nothing that is good. All the time she is fighting the politicians when she should be looking out for the Gogo who has been shortchanged. She also hasn’t paid any of her personal cost orders, next step she will be so poor she can’t afford to travel to give evidence. Is there a ministerial handbook on how to milk the tax payer ?

  • Confucious Says says:

    Haaaaaaahahahahaha! Not so easy when you have to work for it like the rest of us do!

  • Caroline White says:

    Ms Mkhwebane should pay her own rent!

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