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Good Mkhwebane/Bad Mkhwebane – Mpofu strings narrative of the Public Protector as a people’s Joan of Arc

Good Mkhwebane/Bad Mkhwebane – Mpofu strings narrative of the Public Protector as a people’s Joan of Arc
Suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Advocate Dali Mpofu. (Photos: Leila Dougan)

Busisiwe Mkhwebane could not have found a more quintessential, ordinary citizen than Freddie Nyathela, the first witness to testify on her behalf at her Section 194 impeachment inquiry.

For two days advocate Dali Mpofu, Mkhwebane’s counsel, has led Nyathela through emotional and often tear-jerking testimony of his struggle, since the 1980s, to empower black South Africans with technical skills and help them secure work.

However, his experience with indifferent government bureaucracy as well as his alleged abuse by National Arts Council (NAC) officials is not unique. This is also the experience of vast numbers of the country’s artists who are hostile towards the NAC and Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi “Flagpole” Mthetwa.

Finding a friendly face willing to help has clearly left an indelible impression on the battered Nyathela, who told committee members in continued testimony on Wednesday that he would never forget Mkhwebane’s words to him: “I’ve got you, Mr Nyathela.”

On the other hand

Had the Section 194 inquiry and its evidence leaders, advocates Nazreen Bawa and Ncumisa Mayosi, deployed this version of lawfare, they could have called small-scale Vrede farmer Ephraim Dlamini.

It was he who, in 2019, told Mkhwebane, while she was investigating the Gupta/Estina scandal, of the involvement of Mosebenzi Zwane, then Free State minister of agriculture, as well as Ace Magashule, then Free State premier.

Later, Dlamini received death threats while the outspoken beneficiary Philemon Ngwenya was murdered in 2018.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Public Protector hears of failed promises in Estina dairy scandal

While the injustice done to Nyathela and his South African Roadies Association (SARA) by the NAC in his dispute with regard to funding was resolved by Mkhwebane, about 80 farmers who stood to benefit from the R240-million project were left high and dry.

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While the duped farmers have not testified at the 194 inquiry, the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture has heard extensive evidence of the Gupta money-laundering exercise.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Vrede dairy farm: Witness testifies about Saxonwold visits and R54m ‘owed’ to the Guptas by Free State government

It would not have been untoward to call the farmers as witnesses, as ordinary South Africans, particularly as one of the charges Mkhwebane must defend in this inquiry is the allegation that she removed the names of the ANC politicians from her final report. 

In June 2020, the Supreme Court of Appeal confirmed a judgment by Judge Ronel Tolmay in 2019 overturning Mkhwebane’s report and finding  that there were “manifold” failures and “dereliction of duty”. Mkhwebane was ordered to personally pay a portion of the costs.

The inquiry has subsequently seen and heard that Mkhwebane, through her attorneys Seanego, paid fugitive attorney Paul Ngobeni to pen articles attacking the judiciary and Tolmay specifically.

This was part of a “communications package” offered by Ngobeni, and for which he invoiced R87,000 while employing Jacob Zuma acolyte, Professor Sipho Seepe, and former EFF official Kilm Heller to launch a propaganda campaign.

Smells like a Mpofbuster

As Wednesday afternoon wore on it had still not become clear why Nyathela’s evidence has taken so much time, has been given in so much detail and for hours on end when it appears to have nothing to do with the main charges.

The smell of a filibuster (a process in the US federal government to hold up a process) began to settle.

Nyathela had nothing but praise for Mkhwebane, saying that because of her, SARA had its venue renovated and an event in February this year that was even attended by Mthethwa but unfortunately Mkhwebane was tied up in her impeachment proceedings.

Before the lunch break Nyathela was regaling the committee with complaints about the high electricity and water bills that have arrived at SARA headquarters, seeing these as an attempt to thwart his dream and force him to give up the premises.

The hearing continues. It is not yet known if and when Mkhwebane will finally give her version of events. DM


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Otsile Nkadimeng - photo by Thom Pierce

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