The Committee for Section 194 Enquiry into Public Protector (PP) Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office today heard evidence from Ms Caroline Zulu-Sokoni, the PP of the Republic of Zambia.
Ms Zulu-Sokoni was called as the first witness for 2023 by the PP’s legal team. Her testimony revolved mainly around the role of an ombudsman, the support and protection it should be given in terms of international rules and how the South African situation is compared to other African countries.
At the start of today’s hearing, committee Chairperson Mr Qubudile Dyantyi indicated that Adv Dali Mpofu, appearing on behalf of Adv Mkhwebane would be given the full day to lead the testimony of the witness and that evidence leaders and Members of the committee will be given tomorrow to finalise with this witness. Adv Mpofu made it clear from the onset that he would likely need more time with this witness.
During the testimony today, several times, Adv Mpofu stated that the legislature or Parliament, should have protected Adv Mkhwebane from being suspended by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
He further suggested that Adv Mkhwebane offended “big and powerful people”. Ms Zulu-Sokoni told the committee that Adv Mkhwebane shouldn’t be subjected to personal costs orders or criminal prosecution. “It sounds like victimisation, I’m sorry to say. It’s a bit much.”
She claimed that Adv Mkhwebane’s impeachment flouts the Venice Principle, which is regarded as the standard for ombudsman organisations by the United Nations. She agreed and said the whole situation can be saved by applying the international standards.
According to Adv Mpofu the “worst thing” that the PP has done is to provide services to the poor, get clean audits, and clear up backlogs. “Should a Public Protector, Ombudsman, whatever you call it, be impeached for delivery?”. Ms Zulu-Sokoni said in response that she came to testify because she can’t allow the situation to go backwards to when she was first appointed in 2004. “Let’s help each other, let’s raise up the institution of the Ombudsman in Africa. Let us save this institution, let us not allow people to start distrusting this institution.”
The hearings will resume tomorrow with further testimony by Ms Zulu-Sokoni. The committee was established by the National Assembly on 16 March 2021 to conduct a constitutional inquiry into the Public Protector’s fitness to hold office. Committee documents can be found at Committee for Section 194 Enquiry
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Parliament.