The man who laid criminal charges of perjury against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and subsequently wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa asking him to suspend her has denied that he is furthering a political agenda against her.
Advocate Paul Hoffman, who has a history of laying complaints against Mkhwebane, has also poured cold water on suggestions that he implored the president to push out Mkhwebane as a pre-emptive strike aimed at paving the way for her removal by Parliament, which is scheduled to hold an inquiry into her fitness for office in the new year.
This came as Mkhwebane confirmed on Friday that she would cooperate and appear in court on January 21 in connection with perjury charges laid by Hoffman, the director of pressure group Accountability Now, which resulted in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) serving the public protector with a summons.
According to the charge sheet, Mkhwebane faces three charges of perjury for allegedly lying under oath about the number of times she had met with former President Jacob Zuma during her investigation into the SA Reserve Bank and ABSA. Two other charges relate to her meeting with Zuma again in June 2017 and she was alleged to have lied about the contents of their discussions on that day.
Denying any political agenda, Hoffman told the Sunday Independent that Mkhwebane should be suspended for the sake of protecting the reputation of the Office of the Public Protector (OPP). He added that Ramaphosa had the discretion to exercise his power “on the basis of prevailing circumstances”.
“The suspension would be precautionary in nature and should be imposed to protect the reputation and integrity of the Office of Public Protector, which should obviously not be led by a person facing criminal charges. The criminal charge is based entirely on the findings of the ConCourt,” said Hoffman.
“The suspension is precautionary and serves the interests of the reputation and probity of the OPP. The PP is offside for her lies both in court (again in Sars matter due to her accepting bad advice from Moody SC) and in her interaction with Accountability Now.”
Ramaphosa’s acting spokesperson, Tyron Seale, confirmed that the president received Hoffman’s letter.
The Constitution is clear on the processes related to the appointment, suspension or removal from the office of a Public Protector. There is no decision in this regard,” said Seale.
In a statement released on Friday, Mkhwebane’s office said the public protector would cooperate with the court even though she viewed Hoffman’s request for her suspension as being typical of him and part of a smear campaign designed to get her removed.
“It is not the first time that advocate Hoffman SC has sought to nail the Public Protector. In July 2019, he laid a complaint with the Legal Practise Council to have her struck off the roll of advances. In March 2020, the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria dismissed his application for a declaratory order that the Public Protector was unfit to hold office,” read part of the statement.
The Public Protector views these as being characteristic of advocate Hoffman SC, who, in 2013, unsuccessfully pursued the impeachment of the chief justice over the comments that the chief justice had reportedly made in respect of the transformation of the judiciary. This led to a complaint of professional misconduct being lodged against advocate Hoffman SC with the General Council of the Bar.”
The statement added that Mkhwebane was confident she would be cleared by the court, adding that Hoffman’s charges were “symptomatic of a desperation to find fault”.
Addressing a function held in Pretoria on Thursday evening to celebrate the first clean audit achieved by the Office of the Public Protector over the past 25 years, Mkhwebane vowed to continue doing her work without fear or favour regardless of all the attacks, threats of arrests and accusations of perjury.
She urged her staff to remain undeterred and thick skinned in the wake of unfair criticism of their investigations and reports.
“We have seen the attacks that seem to be aimed at diminishing this office. At any given time, we weather one storm after the other, and are perpetually in the eyes of the storm. Make sure in the midst of the storm, we excel more,” Mkhwebane said.
“You have seen this movie before, and I think you have developed a thick skin. So, let’s soldier on and fight this battle. Let us remain focused and avoid distractions, for our many people in our country are yet to see the fruits of democracy.”
Mkhwebane also defended her track record, saying the reports of her predecessors were also criticised by politicians, civil society organisations, the courts and the media because it comes with the territory. However, they were relatively less criticised because, at the time, there was no Constitutional Court order which transformed remedial steps to the status of a high court order, she added.
“I am told that long before my arrival, there were threats of arrests, accusations of perjury as well. It’s not the first time there’s criticism of shoddy workmanship on investigations. So it pains me, not because I am the target, but because it’s your work that is being unfairly criticised. You do all the groundwork, you interview witnesses, you write to me requesting that we subpoena witnesses, you analyse this evidence which you have collected, you interpret it, you draft the Section 79 notices, and you all prepare the reports after receiving responses from the people whom we are investigating.”
Mkhwebane said that she had been “bashed” and “called all sorts of names” for defending the work of her staff. She added that “much is made of” the fact some reports have been reviewed and set aside by the courts even though about five of the 137 reports have been affected.
Delivering a keynote address at the same gathering, Economics Professor Chris Malikane said Mkhwebane was a victim of a political and legal onslaught orchestrated by white monopoly capitalists and their agents whose corruption and maladministration her office has exposed. He said Mkhwebane was being subjected to “vitriolic attacks for standing on the side of the truth”.
“While you are still in office PP, the option for white monopoly capital is to bully, threaten, and instil fear regarding which matterS to investigate, relating to who etc, and which not to investigate. The Act gives you a discretion to pick and choose which matters to pursue.
In other news – Video: Rhythm City actress Samkelo Ndlovu and rapper Moozlie confront each other at a night club