Top public protector official in the Western Cape resigns

The public protector provincial representative in the Western Cape, Advocate Ruthven Janse van Rensburg, has resigned from his position, the Mail & Guardian understands.

Janse van Rensburg’s resignation is the latest blow to the office of the public protector, following the revelation this week that both the organisation’s national chief executive and chief financial officer have also resigned.

Janse van Rensburg could not immediately be reached for comment.

The public protector’s office on Tuesday confirmed that chief executive Themba Mthetwa and chief financial officer Dumisani Dlamini have resigned from their posts.

Spokespeople for the office acknowledged that money was a factor in both decisions, as administrators are not highly paid. It is understood that Janse van Rensburg may have resigned for the same reason.

“Due to the public protector South Africa’s limited resources, the CEO and CFO are appointed at lower levels compared to their equals in government,” spokespeople said in response to questions on Tuesday. “For example, the CEO should have been at the level of a director general while the CFO should have been at the level of the deputy director general.”

The public protector noted at the presentation of its three-year strategic plan to Parliament last year that it was too cash-strapped to tackle many of the important cases referred its way, and that there was R77-million outstanding to finance unfunded posts in the office’s approved organisational structure.

Janse van Rensburg is understood to have resigned some time ago. He was not available for an interview but he appears to still be based at the public protector’s office in the Western Cape, when the M&G called the office on Wednesday.

Attacks on public protector
The resignations come amid new attacks on the public protector herself, Thuli Madonsela, who has faced increased political pressure after investigating the expenditure of public money on security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla. 

While government and the ruling ANC have repeatedly reiterated their support for Madonsela’s office, several senior figures in both the party and government have taken her to task over the investigation, and the president himself has employed several stalling methods in complying with her recommendations.

The climate of mistrust came to a head on Saturday when Deputy Minister of Defence Kebby Maphatsoe alleged that Madonsela was a spy. He apologised and withdrew his statements on Tuesday after an outcry, particularly from the United States ambassador to South Africa, but he has maintained that “the behaviour and conduct of the public protector remains a source of concern to us”.

The CEO and CFO duties will be handled by “experienced officials” until they are formally replaced, with the process of advertising the jobs already underway, spokespeople for Madonsela said.

Although Madonsela’s office downplayed the effect the resignations will have, and linked the two official’s decision to remuneration and opportunity, the M&G understands that staff at the institution remain divided, and morale low.

“Mr Mthethwa’s extended employment contract expires on December 31 2014,” a spokesperson said in response to questions. “He resigned, indicating that he got a better offer elsewhere. Mr Dlamini also got a better offer elsewhere.”

Mthethwa did not respond to attempts to reach him, but Dlamini said he was returning to the property sector, where he had previously worked.

“This is my personal decision,” Dlamini said. “There is no bad blood, but truly my personal decision.”

He referred further questions to formal channels.

‘Misleading’ Parliament
In 2012 Mthethwa was the target of an anonymous report, apparently penned by a group of public protector staffers, in which the writers complained that he had misled Parliament about a case-management system crucial to the daily operations of the office. 

However, the writers laid the ultimate blame at Madonsela’s door, saying she had “chosen to ignore the worrying signs that have corroded the institution and the result is a demoralised, bitter, distrustful complement of staff.”

Deputy public protector Mamiki Shai subsequently complained to Parliament that the institution lacked methods to resolve disputes, and accused Madonsela of political bias and favouritism. Shai has since been replaced, and Parliament largely dismissed the various complaints as office politics.

Rumours of divisions within the office have swirled ever since, with some blaming political differences between staff as to how the executive and the ANC should be handled, while others ascribe all arguments to apolitical careerism and ladder-climbing.

One source within the office on Tuesday said Dlamini in particular had suffered ill treatment and abuse. He would not comment on the other rumours.

Madonsela’s office dismissed, out of hand, suggestions that the resignations were linked to the allegations made by Maphatsoe that she may be a CIA spy. It also denied any link with the 2012 complaints and allegations.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.
Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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