Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: SUPPLIED
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: SUPPLIED

The war between the SA Communist Party (SACP) and public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has escalated, with the communist party saying she has become a “hired gun” of the “fightback agenda” against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.

Solly Mapaila, first deputy general secretary of the SACP, said the Chapter 9 institution must not be factionalised, and noted that recent judgments against Mkhwebane are proof she is not doing her job properly.

The public protector has been dogged by questions over her impartiality and allegations that she is at the heart of factional battles in the ANC, a factor some critics say has influenced her decisions on which cases to pursue.

“The public protector should not become the hired gun of the fightback agenda in our movement. She must remain faithful to that office so that the office enjoys legitimacy,” Mapaila said at the national policy conference of the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

He 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, where Ramaphosa was elected ANC president.

“They are feeding the public protector office with rogue intelligence. We will continue to fight this rogue intelligence unit, and we will win,” Mapaila said. “They are given funds and they abuse those funds for petty factional battles in our movement, and we reject that.”

‘Moral, not criminal, cases’

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”.

Most of the cases Mkhwebane has been dealing with were moral and not criminal cases, said Mapaila, adding: “We support that office but not the incumbent. That’s why we have called for a parliamentary inquiry into her fitness to hold office.”

Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, could not be reached for comment.

Defending its call for Mkhwebane’s head, the SACP, an alliance partner of the ANC, argued that Mkhwebane 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.

The Constitutional Court gave Mkhwebane the right to argue against an estimated R900,000 legal costs bill she was instructed to pay by three Pretoria high court judges.

A previous attempt by the DA to unseat her failed when the majority of parliament’s justice committee rejected the proposal.

In the latest controversy, the public protector was accused of widening the scope of her investigation into the R500,000 donation Ramaphosa’s ANC presidency received from disgraced Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson to include charges of money laundering.

She later clarified, however, that her probe was limited to the Bosasa donation.

While her 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.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za