Mkhwebane suspends another senior official

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has suspended another of her staff members after he wrote to her requesting — “more like beg[ging]” — her to resign.

This brings to five the number of senior officials currently suspended — suspensions that have put her on a collision course with the Public Servants Association.

Sphelo Samuel, a provincial representative in the Free State office of the public protector, wrote to Mkhwebane this week asking for her resignation — because of her reckless litigation that is “costing this office a lot of money”.

Samuel had in February written to the speaker of Parliament, asking her to investigate Mkhwebane and her alleged financial mismanagement of the public protector’s office. His letter followed an explosive protected disclosure made by suspended senior investigator Tebogo Kekana, accusing Mkhwebane of putting wording into one of her reports that was drafted by the state security agency, and of interfering in an investigation to protect politicians. Claims of inexplicably prioritising certain politically sensitive investigations were also made by former chief operating officer Basani Baloyi in court papers.

In his letter, Samuel said: “You have eroded the values and principles that this office stands for. You have created such a toxic working environment that the staff morale is at an all-time low,” he said. 

On Wednesday Samuel was handed a notice of precautionary suspension, saying that his letter — also sent to members of the Public Servants Association — was “viewed in a very serious light”.

“In addition, you are abusing the facilities of the employer to send such correspondence, which is not related to your responsibilities,” the suspension letter said.

In a statement on Thursday, the public protector’s office said the development came at a time when Samuel faced a disciplinary process on an unrelated matter. “The suspension is not a sanction but an interim measure.

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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