Public protector tarnishes the gloss of her office

12 July 2017 - 08:03 By The Times Editorial
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu

Thuli Madonsela's incumbency as public protector was so celebrated that it was almost inevitable that her successor would pale in comparison.

But few would have imagined that Busisiwe Mkhwebane would so singularly and rapidly decimate confidence in this institution.

Her flip-flop on Monday over her instruction to parliament to change the constitutional mandate of the Reserve Bank may be her greatest stumble in her short tenure.

If there is any silver lining it can only be that it has unusually united parties across the spectrum, parliament, the Reserve Bank and the finance minister.

It may also have the benefit of stress-testing the public protector's security of office, as a range of parties now howl for her removal.

This, however, is no trivial task. She can willingly resign from office after giving notice to the parliamentary joint committee that appointed her, although this seems unlikely in light of her public pronouncements.

In terms of the constitution she can also be removed on the grounds of "misbehaviour, incapacity or incompetence" to be determined by the joint committee. She can be suspended by the president while such an inquiry is conducted.

But even if the committee agrees that the public protector should be removed, the resolution requires the support of two-thirds of the National Assembly. And despite the blanket condemnation of Mkhwebane's bid to change the constitution, the realpolitik of South Africa makes it unlikely a resolution to remove her will find enough support.

The reality is that Mkhwebane will have the better part of seven years to continue to grind away - or to apply her own - gloss on the office to which she has been appointed.