Government distanced itself from Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Kebby Maphatsoe’s claim that public protector Thuli Madonsela works for the CIA.
“Government distances itself from such accusations as they were never discussed at any official government meeting nor do they reflect the views and thinking of government,” Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said on Tuesday.
“Comments or allegations against any country or persons, including those responsible for guarding and upholding constitutional values, should be raised and addressed at appropriate platforms. South Africa enjoys a cordial diplomatic relationship with the United States of America.”
It was reported on Monday that Maphatsoe, who chairs the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA), had accused Madonsela of being a CIA plant.
“We can’t allow people to hijack the ANC. We’ll fight and defend the African National Congress. uThuliumele asitshele ukuthi ubani ihandler yakhe [Thuli must tell us who her handler is],” Maphatsoe reportedly said in Soweto on Saturday.
“They are even using our institution now … These chapter nine institutions were created by the ANC but are now being used against us, and if you ask why it is the Central Intelligence Agency. Ama [the] Americans want their own CEO in South Africa and we must not allow that,” Maphatsoe reportedly said.
However, at a press briefing later on Monday the MKMVA denied the statement, but conceded that a reference to the CIA had been made.
“He did make reference to the possibility of a CIA machination in an attempt to destabilise the country,” Maphatsoe’s special adviser Ike Moroe told reporters in Johannesburg.
In a written media statement following the incident and written under Maphatsoe’s name, the MKMVA did not directly accuse Madonsela of anything, but hinted that she worked in intelligence. “If Advocate Thuli Madonsela [sic] feels more powerful and above the Constitution, she should tell the country, who her handlers are,” the statement read.
US Embassy spokesperson Jack Hillmeyer confirmed on Monday that the country’s ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard would lodge an official diplomatic complaint about the allegations.
Madonsela has given Maphatsoe three days to prove his claim.
“She also expects Mr Maphatsoe to issue a retraction and public apology within the said period, failing which she will be left with no choice but to invoke the contempt of the public protector powers in terms of sections nine and 11 of the Public Protector Act 23 of 1994,” her spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said.
The Act, makes provision for criminal charges of contempt to be brought for any insult to Madonsela or her deputy, or for actions that inhibit her ability to conduct investigations, with jail time or a fine stipulated as punishment. Madonsela has never invoked those powers, saying she prefers not to take matters of her office to the courts.or.
Radebe, who is also the chairperson of the inter-ministerial committee on information and publicity, said the government reiterated its trust in chapter nine institutions, including the office of the public protector.
“Government hails the role that is played by the institutions to ensure its accountability and the strengthening of South Africa’s democracy,” he said.
“We have created these high institutions to ensure that South Africa remains a constitutional state and government remains steadfast to protecting their role in taking the country forward.”
The ANC also distanced itself from Maphatsoe’s comments on Monday.
In a statement, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said: “The ANC believes that the exchange is extremely unfortunate. However the ANC has no information at its disposal to comment further on the matter.”
“As the ANC, we reaffirm our support and confidence in the institutions established to promote and safeguard our democracy, notably the office of the public protector.”
He said the ANC believed that people who led such institutions should be able to conduct their work without fear or favour.
Opposition parties condemn remarks
The Democratic Alliance (DA) demanded that Maphatsoe, who is also the deputy minister of defence, withdraw his comments and apologise. “I will … request the chairperson of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, Mathole Motshekga, to summon the deputy minister before the committee to provide substantiation for these serious allegations,” DA MP Werner Horn said in a statement.
“If the deputy minister fails to provide proof to support his claims, swift action must be taken against him to prevent these kinds of fabrications from happening in future.”
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) said Maphatsoe’s comments were “distasteful”.
“The sounds coming from the peanut gallery are a desperate attempt at discrediting a constitutional body that is doing its job properly,” UDM Secretary General Bongani Msomi said in a statement. It was unbecoming of Maphatsoe to make such a comment, especially because he was a deputy minister, Msomi said.
The Congress of the People (Cope) said Maphatsoe’s comments were dangerous and called on him to provide proof. “Cope is calling upon him to come forward with evidence and proof of his allegations on the public protector,” Spokesperson Dennis Bloem said. “If he can’t, then we will call upon the president to remove him from his position immediately.”
The party said if Maphatsoe was not stopped he would cause more harm to the country’s already dented image. – Sapa, staff reporter