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‘History will judge me’ — new Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka says performance should define reputation

‘History will judge me’ — new Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka says performance should define reputation
Newly elected Public Protector Adv Kholeka Gcaleka addressed the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday, 14 November 2023. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

The newly elected Public Protector started her term under immense pressure and her independence has been put under scrutiny.

Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, the newly appointed Public Protector, has requested that people allow her to carry out her duties before they start comparing her to her predecessors and throwing stones. 

Shortly before her appointment, Gcaleka faced criticism from opposition parties questioning her independence following the release of the Phala Phala report.

The criticism included comments by DA Member of Parliament Glynnis Breytenbach — deemed ‘sexist’ and ‘racist’ by Good party MP Brett Heron — that Gcaleka had risen through the ranks of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) because of an alleged “cosy” relationship with its former head, Menzi Simelane.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Kholeka Gcaleka’s Public Protector mandate starts with a mountain of distrust to climb

Breytenbach refused to apologise for her comments and opted to exit the National Assembly. 

When asked how different she will be compared to her predecessor Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Gcaleka said time will tell. 

“I always say that it’s actually history that judges how different you will [be] and why you should be trusted,” said Gcaleka.

She said she was not campaigning for the Office of the Public Protector and thus it would be difficult for her to say how she would be different. 

Gcaleka was addressing the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday afternoon and took some questions from journalists. 

Addressing the comments by Breytenbach, she said: “Her comments were unfortunate. I found them very unfortunate, especially at this stage of our democracy”. 

“But again I had to remind myself that we operate in a very complex environment and, truth be told, I am the Public Protector of the Republic of South Africa.”

Gcaleka also revealed that only 2% of remedial action made in formal reports by the Public Protector since March 2016 had been implemented. The Chapter Nine institution is now seeking criminal consequences for institutions that ignore recommendations from their investigations.

“We are actually calling for the criminalisation of the non-implementation of the Public Protector’s remedial action. The courts, our Constitution is clear that we are not merely making recommendations but we are taking remedial actions, and that they should be implemented.”

Gcaleka also briefly spoke about her plans to make her office accessible to everyone in the country, especially poor communities. She plans to have outreach programmes in rural areas and minimise people travelling long distances to reach the institution. 

The office also said it stands by its report on Phala Phala, despite political parties taking it on legal review.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Public Protector South Africa Nelisiwe Nkabinde, said the Phala Phala investigation was difficult as it involved the head of state. She added that they also took into account that much was expected from them, by not only the public but also the media and politicians as well. 

“We set with the complainant [by Arthur Fraser] who was represented by very strong counsel. He had all these bigwigs, big names that represented him. That is what we had to deal with, there were a lot of robust discussions and disagreements,” said Nkabinde.

Nkabinde said the investigating team is comfortable with its findings. 

Two suspects have already appeared in Bela-Bela Magistrates’ Court in Limpopo in connection with the burglary at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm in February 2020.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Money laundering and housebreaking charges brought against Phala Phala farm theft suspects

The Office of the Public Protector said they will wait on the courts before making further comments on the report. DM.

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