Public Protector’s Office: Perhaps an Office in disrepute, marred in political presence!
In South Africa we are polarised today because of how this office is experienced. If you ask questions on the Public Protector and express an opinion you are labelled as attacking her and her office. Those who ‘defend’ the PP and her office do so consciously refusing to hear others whom they already have declared as pro- Nkandla and by-fault against our constitution.
Today in SA we are fed this new diet of victimhood the same I think McWhorter captured aptly when he cites “approaching victimhood constructively will naturally include calling attention to it, and it is healthy. However, much more often in modern black American life, victimhood is simply called attention to where it barely exists if at all. Most importantly, all too often this is not done to forge a solution, but to foster and nurture an unfocused brand of resentment and sense of alienation from the mainstream. This is victimology.”
We must desist being held carceral to any of these politically scripted notions in which a victimology has become the order of the day. One therefore will raise one’s views and questions as we have done before and as afforded by the very constitution we all have fought for.
In some aspects the debate around the PP is similar to the homosexual debate. You cannot challenge the homosexuals, for they alone have the right to argue one intolerant. They equally have an inalienable right call others homophobes but you dare not call them heterophobes for being intolerant of heterosexuals.
If we going to engage the PP and prove sincere in making our constitution count we must at least attempt objectivity.
I wish to postulate the office of the Public Protector is in disrepute as we sit now. The office is in disrepute and perhaps four groups are to blame.
It is my submission that firstly the Public Protector’s personality is to blame for the office being in disrepute.
Secondly Opposition parties who have lost at the ballot attempt to use if not manipulate this office to deal with what they cannot in parliament. This is not new because we have seen how an attempt was made to use the courts to secure political victories against what is called a ruling party.
The third group that must take blame for the current state of the PP office as being in is disrepute constitutes the ANC and its Tripartite alliance members. These have identified the political identity – imagery of the public protector and responds politically to it in various means.
Lastly the media who in my opinion is hardly worth of the Fourth Estate claim but in SA rather a-public-in-publics, who have fuelled the claims and counter claims when journalists fails to report on what happens but confuse pure journalistic reporting with their own opinion pieces. An opinion piece is an attempt of analysis of what happened or is happening. Journalists are over anxious not to give us the facts but to give us their opinions on the facts. These then in turn are reported as the facts.
Having stated these, I for the purpose of this article will restrict myself to deal with what I choose to call accused number one – namely the Public Protector.
One has tried to make sense of this office in its constitutional mandate, jurisdiction and functional presence. I think most of us are denied the opportunity to engage the subject at hand objectively. Our discourse on the PP is so polarised and politically laced that we have only us-and-them as the dictating meridian. Our constitution affords us Chapter 9 Institutions that make up a critical if not cardinal component of our democracy. These offices are duly constituted and ought to be duly functional in its respective mandates thus aiding the practical reality of our constitutional democracy.
However, what these offices have not accommodated or dealt with is the core aspect of personality. We too often in our engagement confuse the office for the person and vice versa. It is perhaps important to debunk the myth that the office is questioned as an integral part of our constitutional democracy, what is being questioned is how it functions and how it is experienced by the public.
It is perhaps time we ask how did the PP office become such a political reality. We have had PP’s before and the office was not so politically loaded or charged as this one. We dare not accept in cheapness of claim that the previous PP’s were mere lapdogs of the ANC, thus incapable of discharging their respective fiduciary responsibilities. We hear wild claims by some who sees this political value of a public protector when they argue for the first time we have a public protector, for that is the subliminal narrative we are fed ad-nausea in our media (a public in publics).
The Public Protector office has now its 3rd incumbent meaning before Advocate Madonsela two other Advocates respectively Selby Baqwa and Lawrence Mushwana occupied these offices. It is here that I wish to make the point; there is a stark difference in how the Public Protector’s office was experienced under Madonsela’s predecessors as juxtaposed to her tenure.
The question thus can be posed has the constitution changed? No, has the mandate change? No, has the functionality of this office change maybe but let us say no to this also. This leaves us with the question why the big change that sees the office in the state it is currently.
Is it perhaps a personality? We must ask why the Public Protector is perceived as being part of the active political world of the SA in particular the opposition party world.
We must ask why the opposition parties in South Africa seeks to ‘defend’ the public protector and how she is perceived by them as a tool for their political fights against what they term majoritarinism, the ultimate sin in our political discourse. We can no longer just assume the vocal defence of the PP by opposition parties as accidental and even coincidental, we must ask is hegemony at play and for what political reasons.
Perhaps we must ask how was the political identity and presence of the current Public Protector crafted? A secondary question is how is this fed, is it fed by Opposition Parties who have contaminated this office in attempt of using it as part of its arsenal against the ruling party.
We have never heard the Public Protector being public about her discomfort with the deliberate intends of some Opposition Parties to attempt using her as a tool, yet she is vocal on the ANC leadership. I had expected her to say to opposition party leaders you not helping my office for defending it you polarising it. Why the deafening silence on this when this public protector is very vocal.
We cannot assume bullies are only number- based, we have seen how parliament is subjected to bullying by a small party, so to assume it is only the big that can bully is farcical a claim.
When we look at how specific reports were delivered, how the ‘public’ was psychologically prepared, how leaks and claims of leaks occurred, how dates of reports release were changed and postponed, we will see the evidence of what some term political gerrymandering. This Public Protector offered lectures on certain reports, therefore she is in the media on what she already has written the same which was not engaged by those she accounts to.
Can it be argued that continuous presence of the PP on some of her reports clouds the reports in conclusion and exacerbates the acrimony? It appeared as if the PP in typical Lady Di style, played with the public around the Nkandla report, some conveniently forget she made statements to the effect of ‘you will be surprised with my findings’ – we still not sure who the YOU is that the public protector was referring to.
Even better we do not why the public relations exercise was necessary, when all the office had to do was to receive a complaint, assess the credibility of such and investigating the veracity of such and reporting on such to parliament. If this is as straightforward as I just made it why can we not have reporting in that simple sense?
Another question is whose report is it after the Public Protector had made her findings, recommendations etc? It appears some reports are personalised as a mantra for the incumbent, it also appears that some reports are of more aesthetic political value than others. It appears any and every time Nkandla is mentioned the Public Protector must respond, why one simply do not know since her report stands by itself. The incumbent recently was captured as saying she was soft on Zuma. These loose statements simply do not help this office – instead it gives it the office a political content that renders it and active political member. This is where the claims of a political agenda are given life.
Why is so important for the public protector at a personal level to take everything that is said about her report personal and serious. To cite another example every day in SA the judiciary makes findings and legal professional and the public however defined pronounces in disagreement on these findings yet the judiciary does not respond, our Public Protector responds to everything all the time why we do not know.
The Auditor Generals of SA have over time made grave findings against Government in all its tiers and expressed not just reservations but named even municipalities that are guilty of a litany of aspects, yet the auditor general reports are engaged and the decorum of the office regardless to who occupies it since the dawn of its inception still holds. If it therefore was a case of the majority party simply not liking the findings and therefore the outcry, why have we not seen this from the other chapter 9 institutions?
We have seen a Public Protector who trades blows and throws them as hard as she can yet when she is put in the spotlight she claims vitriol attacks against her office. She claims a victimhood in which the media is used as platform for sympathy generation. We can no longer ignore the fact that the personality of the Public Protector is an undeniable reality that has shaped this office the incumbent holds. I have asked before at what stage does the PP make her findings, compile the report, present it and leave it to those she accounts.
I am deliberately not dealing with the merits and demerits of a particular case I am dealing with the outplay of communications in discourse in which we are led to believe by those who claim a custodianship of the constitution (less from a ballot trust) but an invoked one where those entrusted by the ballot are made enemies of the very constitution.
What Nkandla has afforded us perhaps unconsciously an opportunity to reflect on how this office currently functions. Nowhere in our attempt of objective engagement in this our collective discourse is the subject of personality factored in, yet this issue may be the very reason we have in this season volleys of persistent public spats, traded insults, personalising and ego tripping of political personas, which is why I argue this office is disrepute.
The Public Protector is on record for her most recent utterances “I appeal we stop personalising matters”. Herein lies for me the key, is this an concession that our public protector herself has personalised Nkandla and her report? If so why?
Perhaps the incumbent has given the Public Protector office a political face, the same that in this season has become the fulcrum of the real issues around the office. The latest salvo and exchanges and media addresses of the incumbent evidences the fact that the current Public Protector functions as a political identity and that political identity is experienced as having chosen sides less for what her mandate entails but for some other aim.
In conclusion South Africa deserves a Public Protector office that firstly is and remains respected one in which the personality of the incumbent cannot be the epicentre of the functionality of the office.
It is here that I plead that we collectively seek to bring back the dignity of this office in objectively asking the questions even those we refuse to ask.
We are no helping anyone in reducing the tough questions ask of the Public Protector as vitriol attacks. I am on record to have scant regard for untested allegations against her personhood particularly those who claim her a ‘spy’ and ‘agent’ used by foreign countries. As much as these are empty and denigrating and must be rejected with the disdain it deserves, we equally dare not allow the Public Protector to get away to be political, trade blows, personalise matters, trade insults even ego- trip and when it heats up claim being an innocent victim.
It cannot be that we see the same as what happens with some feminist debates, when they are challenged as equals they trade until they claim abuse with gender as the tool.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine
A public commentator, author and writer.