Alarm bells as new public protector tramples on Thuli

There is a deep, sharp pain in the pit of my stomach. I feel like I have been hit right on the solar plexus, very hard, by a heavyweight boxer. I can’t breathe. What have we done? What have we done?

When the Democratic Alliance first raised concerns about Busisiwe Mkhwebane in parliament and refused to vote for her as a contender for the public protector’s job, many of us chose to hold our tongues and give her a chance. When DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach alleged that Mkhwebane had worked as a spy while employed as an immigration officer at the South African embassy in China, many of us felt unsettled – but still felt that just as Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was pilloried and vilified before he went into his new role, Mkhwebane too would rise up to the challenge and the role.

It was all a lie, of course. The money was received by the South African government, which then allocated it to Chapter 9 institutions like the public protector, Human Rights Commission and auditor-general. But who cares about the truth and protecting the integrity of the public protector’s office?

Not Mkhwebane, it seems. The lie was out and it had begun the besmirching of Madonsela’s name.

If one was worried about Mkhwebane’s actions and utterances in the week then it was her last action of the week that left one feeling like a heavyweight boxer was giving one a proper hiding. Mkhwebane announced that she would not oppose the interdict brought by Zuma against the release of the “state capture” report.

In essence, she washed her hands of the entire report. Crucially, she threw Madonsela under the bus: she dissociated the institution of the public protector from Madonsela. She signalled that her interest in Zuma handing over state power to the Guptas is not of interest to her. Madonsela is now on her own.

Mkhwebane clearly will have nothing to do with that state capture report. Zuma walks away scot-free again, with Mkhwebane’s blessing.

What now? Sadly, I think we are in for a rough ride. As has become the fashion these days, Madonsela will soon be investigated and threatened with arrest by the Hawks. What crimes will she have committed? The car that her son drove without permission? An early retirement here or there? The NPA will jump in to ensure that her “priority crimes” are brought to court. It will be Pravingate all over again. Meantime, you will hear and see nothing that touches Zuma from our new public protector. The institution will become a shadow of what it was under Madonsela. It will be like the NPA. It will be like the Hawks. It could even be destroyed like the Scorpions. It will be captured.

I hope and pray Mkhwebane proves me wrong.

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