The Public Protector is acting in a manner that shows that she not only doesn’t fear political backlash from her controversial reports, but also does not fear any possibility that Parliament may remove her, writes Ralph Mathekga.
The ongoing battle between Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan is bound to preoccupy Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency to a point where he will be left with little time to focus on the actual work of implementing policy.
In her latest report in relation to Gordhan’s tenure as head of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Mkhwebane concluded that Gordhan knew about the establishment of the controversial SARS “rogue unit” and deliberately lied to Parliament about meeting the Gupta family.
Advocate Mkhwebane would certainly be aware of the political ramifications of a report of this nature and the way it is framed. The finding that Gordhan may have violated the Constitution increases pressure on President Ramaphosa to remove his superstar minister.
At this stage, the only removal that the president may wish could happen is the removal of Mkhwebane herself. He should be wary that he is being pushed into a corner where he must either remove Gordhan or face a constitutional crisis.
Whatever Ramaphosa does about the Gordhan matter, he is already in a lose-lose situation. If he hastily suspends or removes Gordhan as minister he would have lost an important stage of the political battle underway. He would have yielded too quickly to the perceived Mkhwebane political machination.
If Ramaphosa comes across as unable to defend key allies such as Gordhan, becoming his ally would then signify the end of a career. Morally, Ramaphosa’s agenda has also come to rely on key allies such as Gordhan. Ramaphosa therefore cannot maintain a business as usual attitude when it comes to Gordhan. In principle, the president must be worried about his minister’s position at least until the review process clears him.
Gordhan’s departure from Cabinet would send shockwaves through the country, and would result in Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” lacking key lieutenants to enforce the message of renewal. In fact, having Gordhan leave office because the Public Protector says so would be worse than not having appointed him to Cabinet in the first place. Gordhan and Mkhwebane’s is a battle that symbolises Ramaphosa’s ability to hold up against detractors within his party, the ANC.
Whilst Mkhwebane insists that she is doing her job without fear or favour, her report on Gordhan does not demonstrate efforts to rise above factional politics within the ANC. The finding that a “rogue unit” indeed existed and carried out illegal intelligence gathering activities is just too handy for those involved in internal factional squabbles between Zuma allies and Ramaphosa allies in the ANC.
At the same time, the Public Protector seems to be very confident and is acting in a manner that shows that she not only doesn’t fear political backlash from those controversial reports, but also does not fear any possibility that Parliament may remove her from office due to incompetence, for example.
It would be interesting to see if any attempt will be made by some ANC members to try to remove Mkhwebane from office through a parliamentary process. The ANC caucus in Parliament, as it stands, will most likely reject attempts to remove Mkhwebane. It seems to be well aligned not to give Mkhwebane sleepless nights about losing her job. It would be very embarrassing for Ramaphosa’s allies if a parliamentary process to remove Mkhwebane is undertaken and fails because the ANC caucus couldn’t agree to that. That is one shot where one cannot miss.
Those who are upset with Mkhwebane about her reports and work generally may only resort to eating away her integrity piece by piece; one court review at a time! This may result in a situation where Mkhwebane is neutralised as she deals with too many court losses. Yet, an immediate removal through a parliamentary process may not be on the cards anytime soon. The wheels of justice grind very slowly at times.
– Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa’s Turn.
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