As expected, acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka was voted in as the new head of the chapter 9 institution by the National Assembly on Thursday. As expected too, proceedings were fractious as opposition parties argued that she was an unsuitable candidate who would rob the institution of public respect.
The African National Congress prevailed with 244 votes in the debate, where the minimum was 240 votes, or a 60 percent margin. It did so because of the support of the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The tumult began with the speech of Democratic Alliance MP Glynnis Breytenbach, who told the chamber that Gcaleka did not meet the constitutional requirement of fitness for the office.
Breytenbach was ordered out of the chamber by Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula who held that she fell foul of rule 88, which forbids members from reflecting on the competence of someone holding public office.
Breytenbach obliged, but DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube said the ruling was plainly wrong as the house could not meaningfully reflect on Gcaleka’s fitness if the rule were enforced in this manner, while MPs were obliged to do precisely that.
In protest at the ruling, she then led a walkout of the official opposition.
“In the Speaker’s incorrect interpretation and application of Rule 88, she suppressed dissenting voices from the opposition and unjustly removed the Honourable Breytenbach from the House (relying on the incorrect rule) preventing her from fulfilling her constitutional obligation to interrogate the candidate up for election,” Gwarube said.
“As a candidate and not a sitting office bearer of the Office of the Public Protector, Adv. Gcaleka is not protected by Rule 88 for the purposes of today’s debate, and the Speaker’s incorrect application of the rule marred this crucial vote and collapsed the sitting.”
More protest followed from the Economic Freedom Fighters, whose newest MP Mzwanele Manyi, accused Gcaleka of whitewashing transgressions by President Cyril Ramaphosa in her report on the Phala Phala controversy.
“This is not an honest person,” said Manyi, who is also the spokesperson for former president Jacob Zuma’s eponymous foundation.
Gcaleka inherited the investigation into a complaint lodged by the African Transformation Movement when her predecessor Busisiwe Mkhwebane was suspended by Ramaphosa pending the outcome of an impeachment process.
The ATM, to which Manyi has been closely affiliated, has asked the Pretoria high court to set aside her report on the Phala Phala saga for irrationality, arguing that she failed to interview key witnesses and to obtain the president’s tax records when these came within reach.
From the other end of the political spectrum, the African Christian Democratic Party too raised strong objections to Gcaleka’s appointment. It too argued that she was not fit and proper, and said it deeply regretted supporting the ANC’s nomination of Mkhwebane.
The ANC had called a three-line whip to make sure it got Gcaleka’s appointment across the line, though privately long-standing members of the party voiced reservations.
A member of the opposition remarked though that the reservations many parties held about her appointment possibly also pointed to salutary survivalism on the part of the new public protector.
“She came through state capture. She is clearly wise to factionalism within the ANC and a survivor,” the source said, adding that pragmatism may not be a bad attribute for the incumbent.
The DA’s objection to Gcaleka related to her role in the National Prosecuting Authority and her support of former national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane, as well as her role as advisor to disgraced former home affairs, public enterprises and finance minister, Malusi Gigaba.
Gcaleka becomes the country’s fifth and, at just over 40, the youngest ever public protector. Her youth seemed a political selling point for some ANC MPs, who said it would be a nod to the need for fresh, young leadership in the country.