South African President Cyril Ramaphosa suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the latest twist in a long-running battle between them.
The graft ombudsman’s removal came three months after Ramaphosa asked Mkhwebane to provide reasons why he shouldn’t suspend her, and a day after she began an investigation into whether the president violated the Executive Members Ethics Act after criminal charges were laid against him for allegedly concealing a robbery at his game farm. He has denied wrongdoing.
“This suspension was really a long time in the coming,” though the timing reflects poorly on Ramaphosa and the government, and the decision could be seen as inappropriate, said Susan Booysen, an emeritus professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“The president is implicated and it casts aspersions in every possible clean-up that government is trying to implement. Altogether it amounts to a major crisis.”
Mkhwebane is seen to be an ally of former President Jacob Zuma and his supporters who oppose Ramaphosa’s rule. She’s been a thorn in Ramaphosa’s side since he came to power in 2018, instituting a probe into allegations that he misled lawmakers about a campaign donation and more recently one into an alleged breach of ethics by him, without providing details on the infringement.
Several of Mkhwebane’s rulings have been overturned by the courts, and she has been accused of taking sides in factional battles within the ruling party. She denies that allegation or that she is biased against Ramaphosa.
On Friday, the Western Cape High Court dismissed an application by Mkhwebane to interdict parliament from continuing its impeachment process against her — the latest in a series of failed lawsuits she has filed to stymie her removal.
A parliamentary committee decided in March to proceed with a motion to impeach Mkhwebane on grounds of incapacity and misconduct. Under the South African constitution, the president can suspend the public protector “at any time after the start of proceedings by a committee of the National Assembly” for their removal, the presidency said in a statement on Thursday.
Mkhwebane will remain suspended until the parliamentary process is complete, and her absence from office will “not impede the progress of any investigations that are pending or underway,” the presidency said. Ramaphosa’s actions were in line with his obligation “to act in the best interest of the country, in compliance with the constitution,” it said.
Mkhwebane responded to her suspension by tweeting a Biblical passage and using the hashtag #farmgate in reference to the probe into the robbery at Ramaphosa’s farm.
— Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane (@AdvBMkhwebane) June 9, 2022
The National Prosecuting Authority hasn’t decided whether to pursue the charges against the president, which were filed by the nation’s former spy chief, Arthur Fraser.
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