If there was any doubt where new Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s loyalties lie, it became crystal clear over the weekend when she confirmed that she had laid criminal charges against her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, for leaking an audiotape of her interview with President Jacob Zuma.
In strict terms of the law, Mkhwebane is within her rights as the leaked tape could be construed as being damaging to Zuma and, although a judicial commission has yet to hear every side of the story in Madonsela’s State of Capture report – something the tape infers the president was loath to do during the taped interview with Madonsela – no provable inferences can safely be drawn.
The charge against Madonsela is based on a contravention of the Public Protector Act which proscribes the release of any information which is relevant to the investigation and, in Mkwebane’s words “can only be made public with the permission of the public protector”.
It might well be argued that this is a moot point, as Madonsela had written the report in office but released the tape after her tenure as public protector had ended.
The fact that the complaint came directly from the presidency – and that Zuma has decided to take Madonsela’s report under review – gives rise to the impression that there is a united front of orchestrated obfuscation at work as the leadership laager is drawn ever tighter.
It is also worthwhile noting that Madonsela, who has admitted leaking the tape, is currently out of the country, something Zuma has used to his advantage on several occasions as the attacks on his occupation of the high office he holds have escalated.
It also leads to the impression that Zuma is desperately fighting for breathing space. But the current state of affairs does not result in more sympathy for either party in the eyes of a sceptical world.