SO LONG, FAREWELL
Former Public Protector Mkhwebane’s wild ride – from purging ‘demonic forces’ to the ‘trivial matter’ of perjury charges
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is officially out of office after a parliamentary vote saw her become the first person in her role to be removed. Her almost seven years in office have been a wild ride. We look back at some of her most ‘memorable’ moments.
When Mkhwebane took office and changed the channel to Gupta TV
Almost as soon as Busisiwe Mkhwebane took up her job in October 2016 she was courting controversy — by reportedly demanding that the TV channels in the Public Protector’s office be changed from eNCA to the Gupta-owned, now defunct news station ANN7.
In one of her first briefings, she also told journalists she was not a fan of the term “State Capture” — which was awkward, given that it was her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, who had effectively brought the concept to the attention of the nation.
When she caused the rand to drop by 1.5%
In one of Mkhwebane’s most eyebrow-raising initial reports in June 2017, she recommended that the Constitution be altered to change the mandate of the Reserve Bank. Rather than merely serving as the custodian of currency stability, Mkhwebane felt that the bank should play a more activist role in promoting “economic growth”.
The report led then former Reserve Bank Governor Minister Tito Mboweni to call for calm, while the rand dived by 1.5% and legal analysts shrieked in horror at the devil-may-care manner in which Mkhwebane was overstepping her mandate.
When she forced the ANC to defend the DA
In 2018, Mkhwebane found against then Western Cape premier Helen Zille over a project to borrow maths tablets from the provincial education department to assist underprivileged learners. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was driven to clarify that she, and basically everyone else, was “completely supportive” of the scheme and “surprised” by Mkhwebane’s finding.
When she said God was her boss
In June 2019, Mkhwebane gave a speech to the SA Sheriff Society in Mpumalanga which grew progressively more unhinged. Mkhwebane went from claiming that journalists no longer asked her for comment, citing “word-count considerations”, to delivering the following famous line: “I know some of you may not be Christian but I strongly believe I was placed in this position by the God that I serve and I believe that only He can remove me if He is of the view that I have failed.”
Commentators did not hesitate to point out that she could, in fact, be removed by a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament.
When she broke the demonic curse on her office
The year 2019 was a big one for Mkhwebane. In August, she addressed a prayer session in her honour in Mpumalanga. Those gathered to speak in her support included ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini and the Victory Fellowship World Outreach Centre’s Bishop Lucas Mthombeni.
Among various extravagant statements at the event, Mthombeni gave perhaps the most memorable. In his address, the bishop said: “We are here to break the chain of Satanism in the Office of the Public Protector, which is led by our sister Busisiwe”.
When she called for divine protection from S&P
Still in 2019, Mkhwebane tweeted at 3.30 on a Saturday morning in November: “God deliver us from these rating agencies and oppressors of the downtrodden for economic freedom in our lifetime and generations to come”.
When she referred to the crime of perjury as a ‘trivial matter’
Criminal charges of perjury and defeating the ends of justice were laid against Mkhwebane in August 2019 by the advocacy group Accountability Now as a result of the Constitutional Court judgment in July 2019 which found that she had conducted an investigation into apartheid-era bank Bankorp (now part of Absa) in an “unacceptable way”.
Among the issues in the investigation with which the apex court took umbrage was that Mkhwebane had met with the State Security Agency to discuss ways of targeting the Reserve Bank — and then made no mention of these meetings in her final report, together with omitting other important documents.
Discussing the fact that the Hawks were investigating her for perjury — lying under oath — at a press conference in January 2020, Mkhwebane expressed disbelief that the Hawks would be interested in such a “trivial matter”.
When she invited a Who’s Who of corruption-accused guests to her birthday party
The Public Protector’s 50th birthday party in February 2020 was an event to remember. Among the 250 guests invited to the big bash of the person supposed to be one of the country’s premier graft-busters was a strong squad of corruption-accused individuals.
They included former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, former NPA prosecutor Nomgcobo Jiba, former state security minister Bongani Bongo and former deputy president David Mabuza. (Mkhwebane’s spokesperson said in her defence that she had also invited President Cyril Ramaphosa, who did not attend.)
When she claimed her bodyguard was poisoned, but actually he overdid it on KFC
The parliamentary inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to maintain office was often a surreal affair, but perhaps never more so than in early November 2022 when it probed a particular claim by Mkhwebane: that her personal protector had been poisoned. (This was part of a wider argument by the Public Protector that she was being persecuted and feared for her life.)
But appearing before the inquiry, the legal head of her office, Cornelius van der Merwe, clarified that there was no evidence that the bodyguard had been poisoned. Instead, Van der Merwe said, the bodyguard’s discomfort “related to an issue of overindulgence in some food, Kentucky [Fried Chicken] or something like that, and not related to an incident of actual poisoning or threat”.
When she claimed former minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson was killed by the state
As Mkhwebane’s grip on power loosened, her press conferences became ever more hallucinogenic in nature. Just days after the death of former Cabinet minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Mkhwebane told journalists that the three arms of the state, in combination with the ANC and the DA, had killed Joemat-Pettersson.
This, Mkhwebane claimed, was in some way the culmination of Joemat-Pettersson’s attempts to extort money from Mkhwebane’s husband to make the parliamentary inquiry into the Public Protector go away.
It is unclear how, exactly, Mkhwebane was suggesting that the state contributed to the former minister’s death. To quote Mkhwebane: “In a way all of these [state] institutions killed Joemat-Pettersson… She would be alive if the three arms, ANC and DA, had complied with their constitutional obligations”.
When she said she would return to work despite being suspended
In September, as a last-ditch act of defiance, Mkhwebane announced that she would be returning to work, claiming that the completion of the parliamentary inquiry meant that her suspension was terminated.
Her own office’s spokesperson seemingly had to inform her that only the President could terminate her suspension.
When it became clear that her office was for RET score-settling
Looking back on Mkhwebane’s record of investigations involving high-profile figures, the pattern was clear virtually from the beginning.
Those she doggedly pursued and found against included President Cyril Ramaphosa, Pravin Gordhan, Helen Zille, Tito Mboweni and his officials, former Independent Police Investigative Directorate head Robert McBride…
Those she exonerated, declined to pursue or declined to make findings against included Former Free State premier Ace Magashule and former Free State MEC Mosebenzi Zwane, former Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini… DM