Public protector’s ‘mistakes’ were made to nail the president, court hears

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwhebane blindly and recklessly investigated the CR17 campaign, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s legal counsel argued on Thursday. 

This was during the Constitutional Court hearing of the legal battle between the public protector and the president over a report into the latter’s successful 2017 bid for the ANC presidency. 

The much-anticipated hearing comes the day after National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise’s announcement of the names of the three-member panel who will head the inquiry to Mkhwebane’s removal from office.

In her report on the CR17 campaign, Mkwhebane found that Ramaphosa deliberately misled parliament when he answered a question by then Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane about a R500 000 campaign donation by Bosasa’s Gavin Watson. Mkhwebane also made the finding that there was reason to suspect the campaign was being used to launder money.

In March the Pretoria high court delivered a blistering judgment setting aside the report. The court ruled that Mkhwebane’s findings were irrational and that she did not have evidence of money-laundering. The court further found that Mkhwebane did not approach the complaints against the president with an open mind.


On Thursday, Ramaphosa’s legal counsel, Wim Trengove SC, said Mkhwebane’s “egregious” errors in drafting her report are an indication that she acted in bad faith.

Earlier, Mkwhebane’s lawyer, Muzi Sikhakhane SC, conceded that his client’s report was not perfect. However, he argued, the decisions taken by the public protector were not irrational.

But Trengove hit back at this position. Mkwhebane’s mistakes are “symptomatic of a reckless determination by the public protector to nail the president”, he said.

“Now, we are all lawyers and we all make mistakes. And we sometimes can’t understand, in retrospect, how we could have made the errors we did,” Trengove later added.

“The public protector, however, not only very materially affects the lives of people, but when she has an opportunity to explain and correct her error she fails to do so in this litigation … Instead she blindly bats on to nail the president with no other apparent motive.”

Also acting on behalf of Ramaphosa, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, argued that Mkhwebane was wrong finding that the president directly financially benefited from the money donated to his campaign.

Ngcukaitobi said the only factual basis on which the public protector made her finding that the president financially benefited from the donations was that the money went to the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation Trust. 

But, he noted: “The only link to Cyril Ramaphosa, is that he is a founder, and that the trust bears his name. But the trust is a charitable trust. It is not a family trust. The President is not a beneficiary of the trust, none of his family members are beneficiaries of the trust. The president is a donor to the trust.”

Ngcukaitobi added that the public protector does not dispute the character of the trust. “The bottom line is that at the level of review, it is utterly unsustainable. The report cannot be justified by reference to the facts. It is clear that she had an outcome,” he said. 

“She got facts that are inconvenient; she discarded them. She wanted to reach her outcome — that should simply not be tolerated.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Pandemic cripples learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

Q&A Sessions: George Euvrard, the brains behind our cryptic crossword

George Euvrard spoke to Athandiwe Saba about his passion for education, clues on how to solve his crosswords and the importance of celebrating South Africa.

More top stories

Power shift at Luthuli House

Ace Magashule’s move to distance himself from Carl Niehaus signals a rebalancing of influence and authority at the top of the ANC

Trump slinks off world stage, leaving others to put out...

What his supporters and assorted right-wingers will do now in a climate that is less friendly to them is anyone’s guess

The US once again has something  Africa wants: competent leaders

Africa must use its best minds to negotiate a mutually beneficial economic relationship

Stern warning against Covid greets Mthembu’s death

The ANC has slammed conspiracy theorists and cautioned against showing complacency towards the deadly virus
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…