Public Protector Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane has denied losing a court review against her report on Police Minister Bheki Cele.
The 2018 report accused Cele of “gross negligence, improper conduct and maladministration” for allegedly failing to provide whistleblower protection to KwaZulu-Natal anti-corruption activists Thabiso Zulu and Lesley Stuta. It asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to reprimand him.
However, the Pretoria high court issued an order on Wednesday declaring the report invalid and set aside. Sections of the media subsequently reported that Mkhwebane had lost the case.
In a statement on Thursday, the Public Protector’s office however said the order was based on “consent” because the two parties had reached a “voluntary agreement” to settle the matter “without the Public Protector conceding the merits of the Minister’s application.”
Mkhwebane said Zulu approached the same court in March to request for protection pursuant to her report. The court granted the request, but ruled that the protection should come from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), not Cele.
Mkhwebane added, “This rendered the matter between the Minister and Public Protector academic, hence the consent order. It is important to stress the point that the court, in both the separate cases brought by the Minister and Mr Zulu, did not traverse the merits of the Public Protector’s case.
“Accordingly, the Public Protector still holds the strong view that the constitutional duty to provide safety and security to citizens rests with the SA Police Service (SAPS).”
In a statement earlier on Thursday, Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said the court order had vindicated Cele.
She said the court ruled that Mkhwebane had “misdirected herself.” She added, “The Police Minister has called on the office of the Public Protector to exercise due diligence in her findings, especially pertaining to structures of Government.”
Cele also welcomed the ruling, “The turn of events has vindicated the SAPS and restored its integrity, especially since the Public Protector’s report swayed public opinion to come across as if the SAPS was simply dragging its feet in protecting whistleblowers.
“It has always been clear that while protection of witnesses is paramount, it remains the sole responsibility of the NPA as stated in the Witness Protection Act. The Public Protector should have known this.”
Mkhwebane however said she “takes exception to snide remarks” in the SAPS statement “suggesting that she does not exercise due diligence when conducting investigations.”
In a tweet from her personal Twitter account, Mkhwebane also took issue with an SABC News report on the matter. She wrote, “@SABCNews it is unfortunate to see you reporting such [a] misleading storyline with regard to the SAPS matter.
“As public broadcaster which I watch to get reliable news, this is disappointing. You should do [a] proper investigation. We will however issue a statement of clarity to the public.”