President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SUNDAYTIMES
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SUNDAYTIMES

The ball is back in public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s court after President Cyril Ramaphosa submitted his response to her Bosasa investigation on Thursday.

Ramaphosa beat the Friday deadline to respond to Mkhwebane’s findings that he was implicated in her probe after he was granted two extensions to submit his response. 

Mkhwebane is investigating whether Ramaphosa breached the Executive Members’ Ethics Act by misleading parliament over the R500,000 donation he received from Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson for his campaign to become ANC president in December 2017.

“The public protector will study the response and apply her mind as she prepares to wrap up the matter,” Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said.

There have been calls for a parliamentary process to remove Mkhwebane, whose fitness to hold office was questioned after a number of embarrassing court setbacks. The public protector has also been dogged by questions over her impartiality and allegations that she is at the heart of factional battles in the ANC, a factor that some critics say influenced her decisions on which cases to pursue.

Questions over Mkhwebane’s suitability for office intensified after she lost key court challenges that questioned her objectivity

DA leader Mmusi Maimane lodged a complaint with Mkhwebane late last year after Ramaphosa initially told parliament that the R500,000 payment to an account used to manage his campaign donations was, in fact, a consultancy payment from Bosasa to his son, Andile. Days later he wrote to then speaker Baleka Mbete and admitted he was wrong, and said the money was actually a donation to his election campaign.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko said the president’s submission contained various confirmatory affidavits and supporting documents “which, in his view, will enable this matter to be brought to conclusion as speedily as possible”, said Diko. 

“The president has re-affirmed his respect for the office of the public protector and his commitment to offer his full co-operation.”

‘Fightback agenda’

Meanwhile, Mkhwebane has threatened legal action against SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila, after he dismissed her as a “hired gun” of the “fightback agenda” against Ramaphosa’s administration. He said Mkhwebane’s office is being used to launch attacks against leaders, including public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, “so that there are adverse rulings against them”.

“Adv Mkhwebane takes serious exception to this vitriol and challenges Mr Mapaila to produce evidence to support his claims or retract the statements and apologise, failing which she will consider taking legal steps against him,” Segalwe said. 

She recently found that Gordhan acted improperly with regards to the early pension payout of former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay. Gordhan, who is challenging the findings, said the timing of the release of her report into him was suspicious and indicated that it was politically motivated.

Mapaila, addressing the National Health Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) national policy conference on the East Rand on Wednesday, accused “rogue intelligence units” of having a strong influence over Mkhwebane’s office and of working against the outcomes of the ANC national elective conference held in Nasrec in December 2017, at which Ramaphosa was elected ANC president.

Mkhwebane viewed the remarks with “disbelief” and regarded them as “provocative”, according to Segalwe.

SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said they will deal with the substance of matter as and when Mkhwebane approaches the party, stressing that it had not received any formal inquiry from the public protector regarding Mapaila’s remarks.

The SACP has called for a parliamentary inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office, arguing that she has politicised the office and turned it into a “party-political battlefield”.

Questions over Mkhwebane’s suitability for office intensified after she lost key court challenges that questioned her objectivity. In a May ruling that her office said left Mkhwebane “astonished”, the high court in Pretoria deemed her report into the Vrede farm project, in which hundreds of millions of rand meant for black farmers was allegedly diverted to the Gupta family, as unconstitutional and invalid.

The court accused her of showing a “concerning lack of understanding” of her duties and obligations.

Another report by Mkhwebane set aside by the courts in 2018 dealt with the apartheid-era bailout by the Reserve Bank of Bankorp, which is now part of Absa.

While Mkhwebane’s discredited report into the Vrede dairy project let ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule off the hook, she has been relentless in probes against Ramaphosa and Gordhan.

TimesLIVE has reported that ANC national chair Gwede Mantashe, who addressed the same Nehawu conference on Thursday, accused Mkhwebane of “occupying a political space”.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za