Pansy Tlakula has handed in her resignation to President Jacob Zuma as chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), after over a year of fighting to clear her name over a botched leasing deal.
“The process of trying to clear my name has been long drawn out and for the sake of the institution I have decided to abandon this process and resign to enable the Commission to focus on the preparations for the 2016 local government elections,” Tlakula said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
“I wish to reiterate that I have not been involved in any corruption or benefitted personally or financially from the Riverside Office Park transaction.”
In a long-ranging interview with the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday morning, Tlakula said she handed in her resignation on Monday.
- Look out for an exclusive interview with Tlakula about her resignation in the Mail & Guardian newspaper this Friday.
She later released a statement about her resignation, before embarking on a trip to Gambia in her capacity as the African Union’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela found in August last year that Tlakula had flouted procurement regulations in securing a R320-million lease for the IEC’s head office in Centurion and had an “unmanaged conflict of interest” as a result of the separate and undisclosed business relationship with business associate Thaba Mufamadi. A subsequent report by the treasury made similar findings.
Tlakula’s attempts to clear her name through the courts have been complicated by the fact that the IEC is a chapter nine institution and subject to many protections.
On June 18 2014, Electoral Court judge Lotter Wepener found Tlakula’s misconduct as then-chief executive of the IEC warranted her removal from office as a commissioner after the court was approached by a number of small parties hoping to remove Tlakula ahead of the elections, but who were content with the action that followed.
Her fight to stay in her job reached a dead end in August, when the Constitutional Court dismissed her application to appeal the Electoral Court’s judgement; albeit with no explanation as to why.
The next step would have been for Parliament to act on the Electoral Court’s recommendation to remove Tlakula as chair and then start the process to replace her as a commissioner.
It meant that Tlakula would have faced a parliamentary hearing and was unlikely to keep her job.
ANC and Democratic Alliance (DA) insiders have maintained that Tlakula’s errors were largely administrative and that the facts have not been examined by a court of law, nor has Tlakula or her legal team been given a chance to examine the witnesses.
The ANC in Parliament are unlikely to go against the recommendations of the Electoral Court for her removal, though the party has largely been sympathetic towards her travails.
No clear successor
Politicians and insiders say that unlike previous changes at the top of the country’s electoral body, there is no clear successor who has been groomed within the organisation.
The consensus from those close to the IEC is that the four other commissioners, whose terms last for another five years, won’t make the cut.
“I don’t think there is a single person in there who could be the chair,” said one ANC insider, an assessment with which United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa and sources in the DA agreed.
“I’d be more happy if they bring somebody from outside because, of these remaining commissioners, I don’t think there is anyone strong enough to lead the IEC,” said Holomisa, who has championed Tlakula’s removal. “They showed cowardice in this period.”
A shared opinion from major parties close to the internal mechanisms of the IEC is that Tlakula’s deputy, Terry Tselane, has been positioning himself to take over the role.
Tselane has denied this, however, saying that the commissioners are focusing on the work of the IEC.
“You’ve got experienced expertise and all these people collectively have been running the election, and that they will continue running it,” Tselane told the M&G this week, when asked how the IEC would cope with a possible change of leadership.
“Even when Tlakula was on special leave, the organisation operated normally.”
Currying favour with the ANC
A source in the DA said Tlakula was respected, as she was fair to all parties. But there were concerns that Tselane was trying to curry favour with the ruling ANC, though the DA source noted he has not shown any particular bias in his decisions or work in the IEC.
The ANC insider said it was important to have an IEC chair who was trusted as being objective. “As the ANC, people would think it’s in our interests to have people to kowtow, but it’s not because no one would trust the elections we will win.”
The IEC noted Tlakula’s resignation on Tuesday saying it opened the way “for the Commission to begin closing a particularly challenging and tumultuous period in the Electoral Commission’s history and to move forward as an institution”.
“Despite the circumstances of her departure and the final period of her chairpersonship, we hope that history will show that Adv. Tlakula made a significant contribution to deepening electoral democracy both here and outside of South Africa during her long career at the Electoral Commission.”
A new commissioner and chair will have to be short-listed and interviewed by the chief justice and relevant chapter nine institutions, such as the public protector, and appointed by Parliament.
A second ANC insider in Parliament told the M&G that Tselane is unlikely to get the nod from the ANC’s majority as Tlakula’s replacement. “The problem with [the] deputy chair is he has been part of the factionalism that has affected the IEC.”