All eyes on the Public Protector

When Busisiwe Joyce Mkhwebane sits down in her new office in two weeks time, she will be occupying the hottest seat in the land.

Our new Public Protector has big shoes to fill (she has already said in an interview “I will bring my own shoes” ), and with controversy surrounding her appointment by the parliamentary ad-hoc committee, she will be closely watched to see how she performs.

Neither the DA nor Cope supported her appointment, the former because of her alleged closeness to Jacob Zuma and taking a step down career-wise to work as an analyst at the State Security Agency (SSA), the latter because it felt there are better qualified people than she.

The ANC’s dominance on the committee made sure, as it does in every such appointment, that the ANC got its way, and she was recommended to the National Assembly as candidate.

With 263 for votes, she was of course, a shoo-in, and a month later, Jacob Zuma confirmed her appointment.

Her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, took office on October 19 2009, a short while after Jacob Zuma became president.

To say that her appointment must be one of the most bitterly regretted by Jacob Zuma, would be an understatement, with the possible exception of his appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice.

A virtual unknown, Ms Madonsela came hot on the heels of Lawrence Mushwana, whose tenure was marred by a string of controversies, and accusations that he had done little other than protect the ANC.

Contrary to expectation, Ms Madonsela embraced the mandate of her office, and in the next seven years became, arguably, the most revered public figure in the eyes of the citizenry, and the most reviled in the eyes of those upon whom her scalpel-like gaze came to rest.

In a string of investigations, she doggedly pursued malfeasance in government, administration and the executive, culminating in the landmark Secure in Comfort investigation into Nkandla and subsequent Constitutional Court judgment, which finally started the unravelling of Jacob Zuma’s empire.

Suspicions surrounding the appointment of chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng turned out to be baseless, as did suspicions surrounding the appoint of Glen Mashinini as head of the IEC, so we can but hope the same will apply to Ms Mkhwebane’s appointment.

The EFF’s Floyd Shivambu said during the committee process, that if indeed the allegations about Ms Mkhwebane prove to be true – that she is still on the payroll of the SSA – she could be removed from office by an order of court. (At a tangent, that is a ridiculous assertion, considering how High Court orders pertaining to Hlaudi Motoeneng’s appointment as SABC COO were simply ignored.)

As much as Ms Madonsela was a virtual unknown, so too is Ms Mkhwebane, although she does have prior Public Protector office experience, having worked as a senior investigator and regional representative from 1999 to 2005.

She is well qualified for the job, sporting a B.Proc LLB from the University of the North and a Diploma in Corporate Law and a Higher Diploma in Tax Law from Rand Afrikaans University.

South Africans are bone-weary of the assault upon our institutions of state, so it stands to reason that any appointment to a position of substance will attract ferocious scrutiny, but with the appointment now finalised, all we can do is wait, watch and hope.

As UDM chief whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said, she needs to be given a chance to prove herself, and that chance will be sitting on her desk when she sits down on Wednesday October 19.

The investigation into state capture is well under way, with Ms Madonsela having finally cornered our most slippery politician on Friday – she interviewed Jacob Zuma under oath at an undisclosed location for four hours.

The manner in which Ms Mkhwebane handles the balance of the investigation, will be the litmus test for her suitability as our new Public Protector.

If she is to attain any credibility as Ms Madonsela’s successor – who was at pains to say she must be her own woman rather than “another Thuli Madonsela” – Ms Mkhwebane will pursue the investigation into state capture, the completion of the report and its release, with the same exemplary, ruthless and impartial efficiency demonstrated by her predecessor, mindful that the eyes of the country and many who matter in the wider world, will be on her, every step of the way.