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Ramaphosa suspends Mkhwebane

President says the absence of Mkhwebane from office will not impede the progress of any investigations that are pending or under way

09 June 2022 - 17:25 By FRANNY RABKIN
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

President Cyril Ramaphosa has suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane with immediate effect.

The presidency said on Thursday Mkhwebane would remain suspended until an impeachment process in parliament has been completed. Impeachment hearings are due to get under way on July 11. 

Ramaphosa had accorded Mkhwebane sufficient time and opportunity to make submissions and had taken into account “the nature of the public protector's office and his own constitutional obligations”. The constitution provided that if, for any reason, the public protector was unable to perform her functions, her deputy would do so. 

“The absence of advocate Mkhwebane from office will therefore not impede the progress of any investigations that are pending or under way.”

The decision came despite Mkhwebane’s attempts to litigate to prevent her suspension. A judgment from the Western Cape High Court in which she urgently sought an interim interdict preventing her suspension is due to be delivered on Friday morning.

The president had given Mkhwebane until May 26 to give him reasons why she should not be suspended. In a statement the following day, she gave her reasons “under protest”, she said.

She said it was her “strong view” that Ramaphosa was precluded from playing any role in her suspension because he had a conflict of interest and also that his power of suspension would only be triggered after the start of impeachment proceedings, which she said, in law, had not started yet. 

Though a number of steps have been taken to investigate the possible impeachment of Mkhwebane, she had argued in court that, in law, the “proceedings” had not yet begun. 

On Wednesday the public protector confirmed that her office was investigating a complaint against Ramaphosa related to his “alleged conduct in respect of allegation of criminal activities at one of his properties”. The complaint was made by the ATM’s MP Vuyo Zungula.

The statement from the office of the public protector said that she gets “a lot of unfair criticism” when it came to investigations under the executive code of ethics, with “some media organisations and politicians often accusing the office of ‘targeting’ certain members of the executive and getting involved in party politics”.

But the public protector was the only institution empowered to enforce it, said the statement. And on receipt of a complaint under the code, the public protector must investigate it, said the statement.

The presidency said on Thursday that both Ramaphosa and Mkhwebane were obligated to act in the best interest of the country “in compliance with the constitution and mindful of the need to protect all constitutional institutions. The president’s decision to suspend advocate Mkhwebane is the best manner to fulfil these obligations.”

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