2023 top stories | From Public Protector to Advocate Fighter

todayDecember 27, 2023 24 1

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As the year winds down to its close, YNews is recapping some of the stories that grabbed the nation’s attention, either by making history or sending shockwaves throughout the country in 2023.

Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s impeachment as the country’s fourth Public Protector since the dawn of democracy is a tale that can’t be ignored.

In September, Mkhwebane was removed from her position, becoming the first head of a Chapter 9 Institution to be booted out of office.

Three hundred and 18 parliamentarians voted in favour of the Section 194 report, which found her guilty of misconduct, 43 others were against it and one MP abstained.

Mkhwebane had been at the helm since October 2016 when she was appointed by Former President, Jacob Zuma.

Her appointment followed shortly after her predecessor advocate Thuli Madonsela released a report termed ‘ State of Capture”, which lifted the lid on the extent at which corruption has infiltrated the country’s state-owned entities, particularly at the hands of the notorious Gupta brothers, who the country is still failing to extradite.

Controversy and backlash marked Mkhwebane’s term in office.

The former public protector took on a number of high profile cases including the ABSA-Bankorp matter, Gupta-linked Estina Dairy Farm project, CR17 presidential campaign funding and the Sars High Risk Investigative Unit, which was said to have been ‘rogue’. Her reports on these cases were all found wanting and set aside in the high court.

Mkhwebane’s final downfall came when she attempted to investigate President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dubious multi-million dollar Phala Phala farm scandal.

In June, the President furnished Mkhwebane with a suspension letter, pending a Parliamentary inquiry into her fitness to hold office, which ultimately saw her ousting.

Mkhebane described the Section 194 Inquiry as a deliberate attempt to tarnish her legacy. She claimed that certain parties, including the DA and the governing ANC, have always had a mandate to give her the boot.

The former Public Protector has told YNews that her formidable time in office will send a message to history and generations to come.

“As the public protector I’ve changed more than 70 000 poor and marginalised individuals who came to the public protector to request that they be protected from the abuse of power by public servants, state missionaries, those who are corrupt.”

“I was just standing my ground to show young people that even the heads of state can be prosecuted.”

Following Mkhwebane’s political turmoil, political analysts raised concern that over the years, the office of the Public Protector suffered a credibility crisis over its handling of high-profile cases.

Some encouraged that the country’s next Public Protector should serve the interests of ordinary South Africans and not advance the interests of politicians.

After a successful impeachment, Deputy Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka took over the reins.

Mkhwebane’s removal left political parties divided.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) labelled Mkhwebane’s departure as a closure of a turbulent and regrettable chapter in the country’s history.

“The DA takes great pride in the members who served on the Section 194 Committee, demonstrating diligence and upholding their oath of office. History will remember how the ANC, EFF and other parties bulldozed through the decision to have an unfit Mkhwebane appointed into a position that she was never suitable for in the first place despite the DA raising valid concerns about her appointment in 2016,” said party Chief Whip, Siviwe Gwarube.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)  slammed the decision as a gross undermining of democracy.

The party believes that Mkhwebane’s removal was not based on performance, but rather a vindictive pursuit to remove her for investigating President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“Regardless of the deeply flawed nature of the inquiry’s conclusions, it remains indisputable that Mkhwebane is entitled to her compensation. Her tenure oversaw a multitude of successful investigations and marked the achievement of its first series of clean audits for office.”

The red berets said they reserve their right to take the report on review.

The African Transformation Movement (ATM) on the other hand commended Mkhwebane for her “bravery under the difficult circumstances she endured.”

The party’s spokesperson, Zama Ntshona, described her impeachment as a sad time for the country’s democratic dispensation.

“That a black woman of a calibre of advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane would be unjustifiably impeached just a few days before her term expires. We are dismayed by the level of cruelty suffered by Mkhwebane at the hands of a black led government that often purports to be fighting for the previously disadvantaged and marginalized groups of our country.”

Ntshona said the vote in Parliament was nothing, but a clear indication that the DA-led ANC has lost all values of a liberation movement and Ubuntu.

Mkhwebane joins the EFF

A month after she was booted, the former Public Protector made an unexpected announcement that she will be joining the EFF.

She cited the fact that she can relate to the EFF’s pillars, which speak for the poor and marginalised, as one of her reasons she joined the party.

Mkhwebane says she was dealt with harshly by the ANC and DA, and she withstood that treatment to expose their lack of interest in serving the poor and the marginalised.

She has now been deployed to Parliament’s Justice Committee, putting her among the MPs the current Public Protector will now account before.

Written by: Lindiwe Mpanza

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