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Motshekga: Madonsela must grow a thicker skin

Verashni Pillay

Government ministers have denied there was any political pressure placed on the public protector in the run-up to the release of the Nkandla report.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Cabinet ministers loyal to President Jacob Zuma reiterated government's support for Madonsela's office at a briefing following the release of her Nkandla report.

"Government has throughout this process respected the public protector's right to investigate this matter," said Justice Minister Jeff Radebe. 

Government has cautiously accepted public protector Thuli Madonsela's findings into security upgrades at Zuma's private residence in Nkandla, they said at a preliminary briefing on Wednesday in Pretoria, following the release of the report. 

Madonsela's 443-page report was firm but strenuously fair, meaning government and Zuma are likely to follow through on the remedial action recommended in the report. 

But concerns mounted before the release of the report this week of increasing political pressure being placed on Madonsela's office.

Timing
Veiled threats were made over the timing of the report's release, with powerful figures demanding it be released earlier so as not to affect upcoming elections. Other government figures investigated by Madonsela in the past came forward to challenge her findings, while others called the report into doubt. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said it would be treated as a political report, and reports said the party planned to tell its supporters to ignore the report. 

Government has seemingly chosen a different tact now that the report is not as harsh as they feared and will not challenge it. 

But that does not change the history of the damaging process of dealing with the report, which involved court action trying to interdict the report's release at one stage. Madonsela mentioned further pressure applied to her office in the report, describing how the minister of state security and Saps national commissioner attempted to investigate a leak of a provisional version of the report in November last year to the Mail & Guardian. She said the process would have been improper and infringed on the constitutional independence of her office. 

"The investigations … caused discomfort among the members of the investigation team, who perceived it to be aimed at intimidating and victimising them and me."

But ministers insisted that no undue pressure was placed on the public protector, when this question was raised. 

'Too sensitive'
Basic Education Minister Angie MotshekgaMotshekga spoke from her own point of view, saying the public protector needed to develop a "thicker skin".  

"The public protector is free to investigate anything so there should no holy cows. And in return people are free to also defend their rights, so she mustn't feel too sensitive ... They have a right to raise their voice as she has a right to investigate."

Radebe also tackled the question.

"The state has always respected the right of the public protector to investigate any matter whether small or big," he said, adding that the police and department of state security "have a constitutional mandate to make an investigation". 

But Madonsela pointed out in her report that she obtained legal opinion and informed the police commissioner that she was the only one who could have initiated an investigation into the leaks from her department and chose not to as it was not in the public interest. "The national commissioner, in my respectful view, does not have the powers to decide mero motu, to conduct an investigation into this matter where I do not wish to press any charges."

But Radebe still insisted that there was no undue influence on Madonsela. 

"There has never been any political pressure on government's side to any institution of government, including chapter nine institutions."


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