Don't write off Busisiwe Mkhwebane yet

Mzukisi Makatse says PP needs to shake off habits of deference acquired during her long career as a public servant

It is not too late for PP to regain our trust and be the best PP

The two recent decisions by the Public Protector (PP), Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane, may prove to be a turning point and help her to become one of the best Public Protectors ever produced by our country. The decision not to oppose the application by the SARB to set aside her legally flawed remedial action, and her decision to oppose President Zuma’s bid to set aside Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action on the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, may have demonstrated her realisation that unless she is actually seen to be acting independently and scrupulously within the law, her reputation as a PP and an advocate will be ruined.

As a disclaimer, I need to mention here that I know Adv. Mkhwebane pretty well. I worked very closely with her as my manager for four years when we both worked for the National Department of Home Affairs between 2005 and 2008. I know her as a woman of integrity and principle. She is a longstanding and dedicated public servant that has genuine concern for the welfare of ordinary South Africans. She is a woman of God, not a politician.

She has weaknesses just like all of us, but she is more than capable to become one of the best PP’s South Africa has ever had. I say this knowing very well that, when secured, she has an amazing ability to marshal all human and material resources at her disposal and deploy those for maximum effect. She can listen to advice even from a lowly official. She is a very strong manager and leader in her own right.

Simultaneously though, I do believe that her long spell in the public service as a senior government official may be affecting her ability to act in a manner that makes her seen to be acting independently as a PP. I say this because in the public service there is a very strict code and culture for senior public servants to act within the confines of the foreboding hierarchy. This hierarchy demands that the wishes of both the administrative and political leadership of government are carried out in a robotic fashion, thus demonstrating loyalty to this leadership.

Accordingly and having operated at a senior level in government for many years, this culture of administrative and political leadership deference may have afflicted her more than she realises. It can take a while to unlearn this and may be her worst hindrance and a monkey that she needs to get off her back like yesterday. Therefore, the sooner Adv. Mkhwebane realises that she is no longer part of government, the better for her and South Africa. I believe that she has the capacity to pull through these early legal mishaps, only if she constantly remembers that she is not there to serve any government hierarchy.

I should also mention that the allegations about her being a spy - probably informed by her recent employment as Analyst at the State Security department before being appointed PP – were refuted by her and as such I have no reason not to believe her. However, I do think that she needs to do more to dispel the suspicions around strange coincidences that have coalesced around her as the new PP. She needs to wake up to these coincidences around her that make people connect the dots, even if sometimes unfairly. Unbeknown to her, it may very well be that her innocent approach and open mindedness are being manipulated by some to achieve their unscrupulous interests.

However, and most importantly, she needs to take her new job as PP with the seriousness of a scrupulously independent constitutional being, whose single mindedness should be to protect the public from the prevailing abuse of public power, maladministration and endemic corruption. The constitution demands this of her. She cannot allow herself to be swayed from this responsibility by a toxic political climate she finds herself in. She must extricate her feelings and opinions from the political proclivities that abound our public space and focus on applying the law only.

Further and as an advocate who is certified to be a fit and proper person to carry herself as such, she has an enormous responsibility to prove to all and sundry that she is capable to discharge her duties as a PP. The legal environment in the PP office being the sphere of her expertise as an advocate, she must know that any further legal lapses on her part may lead to questions about her being a fit and proper person to be an advocate. When such questions translate to impugn on her integrity and expertise as an advocate, they may have ignominious and deleterious consequences for her future. That would not be desirous for a person of her calibre and potential.

It is on this basis that I appeal to her to rediscover and commit to her true purpose and honour as a PP to serve our people diligently, independently and without fear, favour or prejudice. These values should not just be used as meaningless words that cannot be translated into purposeful conduct - as has been the case with other state organs such as the NPA, Hawks, SARS etc. South Africans expect to see these values being practiced by the PP more than any other politically vulnerable state organ. This is so because it is the PP that may eventually save our state from being liquidated by flagrant abusers of state power and resources.

Mzukisi Makatse is an admitted attorney. He writes in his personal capacity.