It does not rain but pours for besieged Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, with former SA Revenue Service (Sars) executives Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg giving her until mid-morning to apologise to them for her alleged false and defamatory statements.
In a letter of demand sent to Mkhwebane, the duo, through their lawyers, also want the public protector to “immediately remove the defamatory statements from all media platforms, including all publications under your control (and not limited to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook)”.
They also demanded Mkhwebane publish an unconditional apology and a full retraction of the “defamatory” statements on the public protector’s social media accounts.
They also wanted her to immediately provide them with an undertaking that she will stop making or publishing any further defamatory allegations against them.
“Should you fail to comply with the demands set forth in this letter by 10am, our clients may take such action as they may be advised … Our clients’ rights are reserved,” their lawyers’ letter of demand, which The Citizen has seen, warned.
At the centre of the legal spat between Mkhwebane, Pillay and Van Loggerenberg, are recent alleged defamatory and damaging statements by the public protector in relation to the two.
The letter referred to a video posted on YouTube in which Mkhwebane said “when it comes to issues of the rogue unit people have lost lives, people have been tainted and I think that is still going to happen”.
It also refers to Mkhwebane’s Facebook post and tweets, as well as her statement during a gala dinner in which she was quoted as saying “threats of arrest for money-laundering etc and poisoning since I started investigating the so-called rogue unit”.
Their lawyers asserted the allegations were false and defamatory and were intended to mean Pillay and Van Loggerenberg have conducted themselves in an unlawful and dishonest manner and that they were part of a Sars unit which operated unlawfully and dishonestly.
They also contended Mkhwebane insinuated that, as part of the Sars unit, the two were responsible for the deaths of people and, consequently, that they were guilty of murder.
The lawyers claimed the statements could also suggest that Pillay and Van Loggerenberg “are planning and conspiring to commit further murders and efforts to taint the reputations of others”; that they conspired to frame Mkhwebane for money laundering and other crimes”; that they have threatened her life; and that they remain part of a conspiracy to murder Mkhwebane by way of poisoning.
Mkhwebane’s allegations were intended to harm their rights and “promoted propagating hatred against the two”.
Pillay and Van Loggerenberg claimed the statements by the public protector were irresponsible, dangerous and extremely damaging.
Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, confirmed receipt of the letter but said Mkhwebane was unable to comment as she was in Egypt.
Long list of public protector’s legal bumbles
Since taking office in October 2016, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has come under fire for:
- June 2017: Mkhwebane releases her Life Boat report, finding that the SA Reserve Bank’s R1.125-billion bailout of Bankorp, acquired by Absa in 1992, between 1985 and 1995 was unlawful and recommended that Absa pay back the money. The report was based on a UK-based company, CIEX, probe in 1997 claiming Bankorp had been offered R1.5bn on the pretext of a bailout. She also recommended that the central bank’s constitutional mandate be amended. SA Reserve Bank (Sarb) Governor Lesetja Kganyago successfully had her remedial action to change its constitutional mandate set aside.
- November 2017: Sarb applies for a declaratory order that Mkhwebane abused her office, demanding that she pays her legal costs.
- February 2018: The High Court in Pretoria sets aside her Bankorp-CIEX report.
- February 2018: Mkhwebane releases a report on the Estina dairy project in Vrede, Free State, but was criticised for not making any findings against Ace Magashule, Free State premier at the time, or Mosebenzi Zwane, then agriculture MEC.
- May 2019: The High Court in Pretoria finds Mkhwebane failed in her duties to investigate and report on the project.
- May 2019: Mkhwebane finds Pravin Gordhan, public enterprises minister, guilty of “improper conduct” for approving then-deputy SA Revenue Services (Sars) Commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirement.
- June 2019: Justice and correctional services portfolio committee to consider DA’s third request to have Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office reviewed.
- June 2019: Thandi Modise, speaker of parliament, confirms Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office had been “referred to the portfolio committee”.