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Editorial

Mkhwebane needs to restore public confidence after botched start

16 July 2017 - 00:02 By SUNDAY TIMES

No public protector has enjoyed universal support when they were appointed. Given our country's divided past, it should not have surprised anyone that those named for this important Chapter 9 position would at first be viewed with suspicion from some quarters.
All three individuals who occupied the post before the incumbent, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, faced serious public scrutiny amid allegations that - given their involvement in the freedom struggle to end apartheid - they were sympathetic to the governing party and the government.
To varying degrees, the first three protectors managed to prove to the majority of South Africans that they took their ombudsman role seriously and that they were there to protect the public and not public officials.
While many of us may have been sceptical about the office's ability to hold errant politicians to account during Lawrence Mushwana's tenure, our confidence in that office was restored by the brave actions of his successor, Advocate Thuli Madonsela.However, it is important to remember that when she was first appointed there was a lot of scepticism about Madonsela.
It is with that history in mind that we have decided to remain cautiously optimistic about Madonsela's successor, Mkhwebane, despite a number of uncomfortable questions that remain unanswered about her past role at the State Security Agency.
Like many South Africans, we had hoped that she would soon prove her detractors wrong and, like her predecessor, win the confidence of the public by demonstrating fierce independence in carrying out her duties.
However, a number of controversies that have engulfed her office since she took over are not assisting her case. Her clumsy handling of the investigation into whether banking group Absa should be held financially liable for a loan granted by the apartheid government to one of the company's predecessors does not inspire public confidence.
Mkhwebane's concession that she overstepped the mark when she sought to tell parliament to amend the constitution and have the mandate of the Reserve Bank changed has raised serious questions about her understanding of our constitutional set-up - more especially the doctrine of the separation of powers.
Her office initially insisted that she was within her right to do so, even though it was obvious that she had gone way beyond her mandate.
While her decision not to challenge the Reserve Bank's court action over her recommendation is a step in the right direction, her original recommendation calls into question whether she is the right person for this crucial job...

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