South Africa

Mkhwebane dismissed weeks before tenure ends

South African lawmakers fired the nation’s controversial graft ombudsman one month before her seven-year tenure was due to have ended, denying her a gratuity of about R10 million that she would have received had she completed her term. 

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has courted controversy ever since she took office in 2016, making a number of politically charged findings that have been overturned in the courts.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, petitioned parliament to impeach her, and President Cyril Ramaphosa suspended her in mid-2022 while legislators determined her fitness to continue in office.

The National Assembly on Monday agreed to dismiss Mkhwebane, with the ruling African National Congress voting alongside the DA to meet the two-thirds support threshold required for her removal.

It had been established beyond doubt that Mkhwebane “has misconducted herself and is incompetent. She is therefore not fit for this esteemed office,” said Richard Dyantyi, an ANC lawmaker who chaired a panel that investigated the ombudsman.  “We did not arrive at these findings lightly. “ 

While Mkhwebane is likely to file a lawsuit challenging her ouster, she’s unlikely to win because the courts rejected her attempts to have her suspension overturned and halt parliament’s investigations into her conduct.

Parliament’s ethics committee also dismissed allegations made by Mkhwebane and her husband that three prominent ANC lawmakers tried to elicit a bribe from them to quash her disciplinary proceedings.

The Office of the Public Protector is one of six constitutionally enshrined institutions that are tasked with supporting and defending democracy in South Africa. Its main brief is to protect the public from government maladministration and improper conduct by officials. 

Former President Jacob Zuma appointed Mkhwebane to her post in line with a recommendation from parliament. She replaced Thuli Madonsela, who gained widespread public trust after making a series of findings against Zuma and several other senior politicians implicated in graft and the misuse of public funds.

Mkhwebane instigated an investigation into Ramaphosa’s conduct after South Africa’s former chief spy alleged that he tried to cover up the theft of at least $4 million hidden in a couch on his game farm.

The president, who succeeded Zuma in early 2018, denied that he had broken the law, and he was cleared of wrongdoing by acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka and lawmakers.

Gcaleka, who served as Mkhwebane’s deputy and stood in for her during her suspension, will take over as Public Protector on a permanent basis from next month. 

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