Interviews for the position of deputy public protector largely revolved around candidates’ perceptions of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, rather than their ability to do the job of the outgoing Kevin Malunga.
Seven candidates were shortlisted by Parliament’s justice portfolio committee to take up the seven-year, nonrenewable term. They are Shadrack Nkuna, Puleng Matshelo, Moshoeshoe Moshoeshoe, Buang Jones, Lwazi Kubukeli, Noxolo Mbangeni and Kholeka Gcaleka.
Malunga will vacate his office in December.
Interviewees were peppered with questions about how they would get along with Mkhwebane.
There has been notable acrimony between Mkhwebane and her second-in-command, who has been taken off high-profile cases.
Nkuna, a former investigator at the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit and currently a director at the Public Service Commission, said that on his first day on the job he would request a meeting with Mkhwebane to outline their relationship.
“As soon as I get into the office, I will obviously have a discussion with the PP and emphasise the fundamentals of teamwork … Should I be appointed, the public protector and I will be the two most senior members of that office. And if we don’t work together, we are creating fertile ground for groups to develop in the office,” he told MPs.
Gcaleka, a former special advisor to former minister Malusi Gigaba, came in for some sharp criticism from MPs.
During the shortlisting process, the Economic Freedom Fighters fiercely opposed her being interviewed because of her proximity to Gigaba.
Gigaba resigned as a Cabinet minister in November 2018 after a litany of controversies.
He was a finance minister in former president Jacob Zuma’s government when he came under court and parliamentary censure for his handling of the Oppenheimer family’s private terminal, called Fireblade, at OR Tambo International Airport.
The courts found Gigaba had lied under oath about approving the terminal.
MPs questioned Gcaleka’s role in the saga while she was Gigaba’s special adviser.
She has insisted she had no part in the matter.
“I joined the office of Malusi Gigaba on the first of November 2016. The Fireblade matter had been going on for years before that. When I arrived there was counsel on the matter;
documents were being concluded. I was never part of any meetings prior to that,” she told MPs.
MPs quizzed her about comments that the public protector should not pander to the interests of lobby groups.
She clarified that the chapter nine institution has gained greater importance in recent years and that there is a growing interest in its functions and outcomes of investigations, some with immense political consequences.
“The public protector’s office has found interest in various lobby groups. It is common cause you would find various organisations and NPOs [nonprofit organisations] wanting to say how the public protector forms her decisions. You’d also find political parties getting involved. It’s in this context that I said that the public protector must be at all times independent,” Gcaleka said.
Issues of race and rugby also arose during the two days of interviews.
Another shortlisted candidate, Jones, the acting head of legal of the South African Human Rights Commission, was asked about remarks he made during the investigation of an alleged racial attack by World Cup-winning Springbok Eben Etzebeth.
Buang reportedly told a community meeting in Langebaan in August that Etzebeth would not get off unpunished, adding that the Springbok lock forward has “gotten away with murder” for too long.
His utterances led lobby groups, such as the Afrikanerbond, to call for an investigation into his conduct.
“I wish to put on record that I am not facing any disciplinary hearing or inquiry,” Jones told MPs. “There was a request at the behest of the Afrikanerbond for an investigation to be undertaken over the appropriateness of my
remarks. The commission has received two external legal opinions … they have exonerated me.”
Jones told the committee that his comments at the public meeting were taken out of context.
“In the Etzebeth case, we decided to institute proceedings in the equality court. I was carrying out instructions of our commissioners. During a meeting where the community was relaying their lived experiences, I was simply rephrasing and reminding them of the things I had heard that day. So it is correct that I said we will make an example of Etzebeth.”
The justice committee says it will make a decision on who it will choose as its candidate to take up the post before Parliament rises for the end-of-year break in December.
The decision will then be voted on by all 400 MPs in the National Assembly before the new deputy public protector is appointed.