The public protector must be above reproach
It is unfortunate, but hardly surprising, that a number of the public protector's investigations into the conduct of the president and some of his cabinet members are being viewed mainly as part of an ANC factional battle that has been playing itself out for years.
Unfortunate because the office of the public protector is supposed to be independent and above party politics. Its success in carrying out its duty is largely dependent on its credibility in the eyes of the public as an honest broker who investigates and makes findings without fear or favour.
Hardly surprising because since the days of Thuli Madonsela as public protector, there have been attempts to drag this office into the political terrain - some with the aim of undermining its effectiveness as an independent body.
Madonsela succeeded in avoiding falling into the trap.
The high regard with which she continues to be held by most South Africans is mainly due to the fact that, in spite of provocative actions and utterances from her detractors - many of them very powerful personalities in the government and the ruling party - she kept her cool, sticking to her mandate when investigating matters.
The incumbent public protector, Busi Mkhwebane, is facing similar issues to those of Madonsela, albeit for different reasons. Her appointment into office was already fraught with difficulties as some suspected her of being sympathetic to then president Jacob Zuma and his political faction in the ANC.
Her findings and recommendations on various cases were therefore seen in that context, with her detractors accusing her of "shielding" Zuma and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule in her Estina dairy farm investigations and "targeting" Pravin Gordhan - a staunch supporter of President Cyril Ramaphosa -on other matters. Mkhwebane denies the alleged bias.
We are worried that these perceptions, if allowed to persist, will end up undermining and weakening the public protector's office, a constitutional institution proven to be key in safeguarding our democracy. We therefore call on all parties concerned to ensure that they fight their legal battles in a manner that does not tarnish the image of the office in the eyes of the public. If Mkhwebane is not fit to hold the office, let the courts and proper parliamentary processes determine that.
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