Mkhwebane denies protecting Magashule and Zwane in Vrede report

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has denied that she “deliberately curtailed” the remedial action made in a provisional report on the Vrede dairy project by her predecessor Thuli Madonsela to protect Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane.

Mkhwebane has been accused of making unreasonable changes to Madonsela’s draft report on the farm in a supplementary affidavit filed by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) at the Pretoria high court.

Casac’s executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said in the affidavit that the alterations Mkhwebane made would help senior politicians, such as former Free State Premier Magashule and former agriculture MEC Zwane, avoid being investigated.

“In the absence of any explanation from the public protector, Casac submits that the only possible inference, which the court should not hesitate to draw, is that she deliberately curtailed the report’s findings and remedial action in an effort to protect department officials and thereby acted for an improper purpose and in bad faith,” Naidoo said in the supplementary affidavit.

Casac’s allegations come after it received the record of decision making, where it was revealed that there was a provisional report by the public protector on the Vrede dairy project that was left in office by Madonsela.

In her draft remedial action, Madonsela had said that the matter should be referred to treasury, the Special Investigating Unit and the Auditor-General for investigations. Naidoo said in his affidavit that Mkhwebane blanked out the investigations and instead tasked Magashule to discipline those implicated in the saga. This would also leave Magashule to decide on who was to blame.

While the then head of the Free State agriculture department,  Peter Thabethe, was found, in the provisional report, to have been involved in some wrongdoing, Naidoo said that Mkhwebane removed this information and in her final remedial action ordered that Thabethe train procurement officials.

But Mkhwebane’s office insisted in a press statement on Monday that the allegation she made these changes to protect political figures is unfounded because a “simple reading of the purported provisional report will show that the involvement of the politicians was never part of the investigation and neither did it form part of the report”.

“Any suggestion that the public protector shielded politicians is therefore devoid of any truth and is malicious,” Mkhwebane’s office said in the statement.

Mkhwebane also said that she has no legal obligation to implement the findings or remedial action of the provisional report and that her own report is of substance.

“I have two letters from the president confirming that he dismissed at least two members of his Cabinet purely on the basis my findings. This was after I found that the two former ministers had misled Parliament. Yet some people are desperately trying to have the public believe that I have come into office to protect politicians. Surely the far-reaching consequences of my findings in these two cases are at odds with the prevailing narrative which is being peddled out there?” Mkhwebane said.

Previously, Mkhwebane admitted to Parliament that she did leave information – such as the Gupta leaks and allegations of political corruption in the Vrede matter – out of her report because there was “never a complaint directly” about the Guptas or any politicians.

She also told Parliament that when she came into the public protector’s office, the Vrede report was already complete and was being handled by the office’s quality assurance team.

Casac is now alleging the Mkhwebane misled Parliament because the provisional report was not signed, and was only a draft, and it was therefore incomplete and subject to changes she made.

On Monday, Mkhwebane’s office wished to “remind detractors” that the public protector will  investigate political interference and corruption in the Vrede deal. Casac believes, however, that the investigation should be kept far away from Mkhwebane’s desk because “she has shown herself to be incapable of doing so effectively”.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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