NEWS & ANALYSIS

Hurrah for the PP’s findings against Zille

William Saunderson-Meyer explains why the report should be applauded

JAUNDICED EYE

Let’s applaud the latest report from the Public Protector. In a harshly punitive finding, she has declared that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille violated the Constitution of the Republic with “an incitement to imminent violence”. 

Advocate Busiswe Mkhwebane ruled that Zille had failed to uphold her oath of office, divided society on racial grounds, and acted in a manner inconsistent with integrity of office. The Speaker of the Western Cape legislature must act against Zille within 30 days and the African National Congress in this, the only province not governed by it, claims to be jubilant. 

But Mkhwebane’s report should be applauded not because it is correct. It should be cheered because it is so ludicrous in law and so maliciously partisan that with this bizarre finding she may at last have gone too far, exhausting her already waning parliamentary support. 

Mkhwebane’s 20-month tenure has been a disaster. She has stumbled from one inept and legally controversial finding to another, but she has now reached what is surely the nadir of her lacklustre career. Her exit must be imminent.

If she goes, the career-crushing blow will have originated with a simple tweet. Last year, after a visit to Singapore, Zille last tweeted that not every aspect of colonialism had been entirely bad. “Think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc,” she wrote.

It’s a statement that, while politically unpopular, is academically unremarkable. While it was unwise to tackle in 140 characters a subject with such ramifications of oppression and emotional pain, Zille’s assertion is part of an ongoing historical debate that has scholars, including people of colour, arguing both sides of that contention.

Zille’s remark must be measured, too, against the backdrop of comments by black political leaders like Julius Malema, who one more than on occasion has ruminated on the desirability of white genocide, which deigns not to trigger “for now”. It is nonsensical that such incendiary statements attract no rebuke, but Zille’s is deemed to be an “incitement to imminent violence”.

Unfortunately for Zille, her tweet was manna for political agents provocateur and the trolls of “woke” Twitter. There was a firestorm of social media outrage, assiduously fanned by Zille’s opponents, including rivals within her own Democratic Alliance, and gleefully abetted by a swathe of leftwing self-professed public intellectuals.

Mkhwebane’s finding – which appropriately enough has been scanned onto the Public Protector website upside down – is thinner and more transparent than the gruel in a Dickensian alms-house. Her poverty of intellect is cruelly summed up by constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos.

He blogs that the report is “so legally misguided that it is difficult to believe that a qualified lawyer wrote it in good faith… She has little understanding of her own powers and lacks even a very basic knowledge of the Constitution.”

De Vos, whose loathing for Zille has always oozed like sweat from his writing, is clearly feeling frustrated. “Some of us who have been highly critical of [Zille’s] tweets, will now have to point out that the report is a legal nonsense and that it will be declared irrational and set aside by the courts.”

Mkhwebane’s finding is so silly as to be genuinely comical. Less amusing is the fact that her performance as Public Protector, replacing the doughty and respected Advocate Thuli Madonsela, has been consistently woeful. 

Of her 50 investigations, 10 were or are under judicial review. When she ordered the Reserve Bank to change its constitutional mandate, the High Court not only set the finding aside, but imposed the unusual sanction of ordering her personally to pay costs.

In reversing her finding on the apartheid-era bailout of Bankorp, the High Court savaged her for lacking impartiality. “She did not have regard thereto that her office requires her to be objective, honest and to deal with matters according to the law and that a higher standard is expected of her.”

To expect a “higher standard” from Mkhwebane is a forlorn hope. She is just not up to it. It is instructive to revisit her curriculum vitae, still on the parliamentary website from her 2106 application for the Public Protector post.

As well as being a hodge-podge of strange grammar and punctuation – “Nationality: African, gender: Female,” – it paints, at best, a picture of an unremarkable civil servant. 

She did a BProc LLB at the University of the North, now the University of Limpopo, and one South Africa’s weakest universities. She lists as one of her career achievements that in 2009, while working for Home Affairs, she was “one of the few Senior Manager to be awarded merit award” (sic). 

Mkhwebane has never been anything more than an ANC shill, twisting and contorting her “investigations” to fit the findings into a template pleasing to her political masters. She was shoehorned into the job by the ANC – with the complicity of the Economic Freedom Fighters, who voted for her simply because of her race – as a trusted balm to ease the stings inflicted on former president Jacob Zuma and his corrupt cronies by her principled predecessor.

The usefulness of the biddable Mkhwebane to the Zuma ANC is now, under President Cyril Ramaphosa, a career disadvantage. And her professional shortcomings and political biases are now so obvious as to be cringingly embarrassing to the ANC. 

Mkhwebane wants to employ a “special adviser”, at an annual salary of R1.2m, to replace the voluntary independent panel that is currently available to assist. Perhaps the new appointee could start by advising Mkhwebane on the drafting of her letter of resignation.

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