EDITORIAL: Busisiwe Mkhwebane puts ANC in awkward situation
Governing party must decide whether to back the public protector or support the DA’s motion against her
Rarely, if ever, in the past 26 years has the ANC majority in parliament voted in support of an opposition proposal or motion. Always the response has been to close ranks and oppose, regardless of the merits of the issue. Party first, in other words.
The best example of this is the successive votes of the ANC majority in support of then president Jacob Zuma over a period of almost 10 years. Regardless of the facts, if the DA or any of its previous incarnations made the proposal, it was to be opposed. So Zuma, who is accused of indulging on the spoils of office, squandering and facilitating corruption, survived no-confidence vote after no-confidence vote.
One can only imagine what could have been saved, both ethically and financially, if the first no-confidence vote had dumped Zuma, who denies any wrongdoing.
This is not to say that this is peculiar to SA. Republicans in the US Senate are poised to vote against getting rid of President Donald Trump when, arguably, he deserves to lose his job. Party trumps principle, every time.
The ANC is now facing a similar problem in that the DA has called for public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to be removed from office and this cannot happen without the ANC voting for it.
When the DA first called for Mkhwebane to be dismissed, it was decided that there were no proper procedures in place in parliament to get rid of the heads of chapter 9 institutions and that any summary action by parliament would be legally suspect without them.
Chapter 9 institutions are those that are established in terms of chapter 9 of the constitution and their heads should not be summarily dismissed. This includes the auditor-general, the Human Rights Commission and, of course, the public protector.
So the issue of the past few months in parliament has been to design what are effectively impeachment procedures for the heads of the chapter 9s. This has now happened, with all parties approving the measures. Now comes the issue of applying them for the first time against Mkhwebane.
When she was first interviewed for the job, the DA asked her uncomfortable questions about the time when she worked for state security and whether she was an “agent”. She denied it and the DA emerged as the only party to oppose her appointment. The EFF supported her appointment. Then, after a couple of poor reports, it apologised to the nation for supporting her — and now it is again behind Mkhwebane, but only because she is stalking the man they love most to hate, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.
Mkhwebane has been on the losing end of a number of court challenges to her findings, most notably the report which instructed that parliament should change the mandate of the SA Reserve Bank, that lender Absa should repay more than R1bn that was given to its predecessor Bankorp in the apartheid era and her investigation report into the alleged looting at the Estina dairy farm.
Indeed, it has been charged that she was supporting the Zuma faction in the ANC, this particularly when her report on the Estina dairy project failed to even note the role played by then Free State premier Ace Magashule.
At least three courts, not the least of them being the Constitutional Court, have found her to be careless with the truth. The situation became so bad that the courts, on at least two occasions, issued personal costs orders against her so that she could not continue to spend taxpayers’ money on vexatious litigation.
By all accounts, the flip-flopping of the EFF notwithstanding, Mkhwebane is not fit to hold office as the public protector. She has demonstrated that her grasp of the law is tenuous to say the least, that her honesty is deeply suspect and that she could be captured by a faction of the ANC.
Now the ANC must decide. Does it, for once, put country and principle before party or does it close ranks because it is the DA that made the proposal that Mkhwebane should go?