Perjury-accused Mkhwebane invokes apartheid, calls SA justice system ‘cruel’

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in the dock at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court, appearing on charges of perjury on 21 January 2021. Picture: Neil McCartney

In an interview with ‘The Citizen’, political economy analyst Daniel Silke said the public protector’s remarks could be seen as undermining the country’s judiciary.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has thanked her supporters following her appearance before the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on three counts of perjury, saying that she hoped that she would one day witness “a democratic South Africa with a fair and objective justice system”.

The embattled public protector took to Twitter to suggest to her more than 130,000 followers that the country’s judiciary had been unfair to her.

She was in court over her investigation into the apartheid-era loan by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to Absa in the 1980s, in which she directed Parliament to change the mandate of the SARB.

ALSO READ: Perjury case ‘beginning of the end’ for Mkhwebane as public protector, says Accountability Now

The criminal complaint was laid by lobby group, Accountability Now, in July 2019 after a Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling that upheld a Pretoria High Court judgment, which found that she was dishonest regarding the meetings she had had with former president Jacob Zuma in affidavits submitted to the court and the Pretoria Regional Court in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

The ConCourt also ordered that she personally cover 15% of the SARB’s legal costs in the case.

In an interview with The Citizen, political economy analyst Daniel Silke said the public protector’s remarks could be seen as undermining the country’s judiciary.

“Those who have had judgments against them often want to criticise the system or to disparage the broader system. We are moving into an era in which the justice system and its bona fide is questioned in this way. It delegitimises such a critical foundation of the country,” Silke said.

“If we are going to go down the route of delegitimising the courts – some might even what to delegitimise the Constitution – then indeed we will enter very difficult terrain in terms of steering the country into a brighter future.”

ALSO READ: Besieged Mkhwebane has ‘right’ to go on leave, as public protector takes 2 months off

Approached for comment on Mkhwebane’s Twitter remarks, her spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said he could not comment as he had not seen the tweet.

“I have not seen the tweet, so I can’t comment on what that means,” he said.

With Mkhwebane facing impeachment into her fitness to hold office and an investigation by the Legal Practice Council, Silke said all of the challenges faced by the public protector had created doubts about her conduct and her office.

“This adds to the general confusion around the role of the public protector in her position as the head of such a critical institution in South Africa. These charges will be added to the question marks about her ability that have arisen over the last number of years since she was appointed,” he said.

“And I think that it will contribute to the case file that is being put together against her by a variety of political parties in parliament. It will also undermine her credibility even within the ANC because ultimately it is going to be up to the ANC if she is to be unseated. The ANC would need to broadly support the end of her term of office,” he added.

ALSO READ: The two faces of Busi

Silke also said the country could least afford an institution like the Office of the Public Protector lacking credibility, particularly amid the public corruption scandals involving the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the country’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a country that is crying about for a reliable, credible, and trustworthy institution to assist in cleansing the country of the rout that it has been in,” he said.

“The charges against the public protector come at a critical time in attempting to use the very credible institution, at least on paper, in order to rectify our broader society.”

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