On Monday the Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane denied a report in the Sunday Times that she had laid criminal charges against her predecessor Thuli Madonsela. The sequence of events leading to that moment has teetered from the sublime to the ridiculous, but never has it been leavened with the fantastic as it was when the recently appointed PP gave her version of what had transpired. It left more than a few chins pinched between the fingers across the nation.
The Sunday Times claimed that Mkhwebane had laid criminal charges against Madonsela for releasing the audio of her interview with President Jacob Zuma – with regards to the state capture report – to the media, as she interpreted it to contravene the Public Protector Act. This was after she received complaints from the presidency, the office of the speaker and the National Assembly after eNCA broadcast the audio. Not true, said the PP on Monday.
"It's not true that Advocate Mkhwebane laid charges against her predecessor. Instead, she opened a case at the Brooklyn police station in Pretoria, requesting an investigation into the alleged leaks to establish if they amount to a breach of section 7(2) of the Public Protector Act," read a statement published by the PP's office on Monday.
Alongside that, an inquiry from Noseweek, who claimed to have a recording of Madonsela's interview with the whistleblower and ANC member of parliament Vytjie Mentor, and other media stories alluding to recordings with people connected to state capture report were the reasons why she paid a visit to her local police station.
Mentor had a bombshell (another one!) of her own in the Sunday news. Some papers reported that she too had asked Mkhwebane to lay a complaint against Madonsela for the "leak". She vehemently denied that, according to News24.
"I was a whistle-blower. I was the first person to be interviewed by Thuli. I have also been defending her on my Facebook wall. Why would I lay complaint against her?" the news site reported, quoting her.
The MP's theory about why Madonsela released the recording is that it would have given the president the opportunity to claim that he'd never been interviewed.
Zuma's line of defence against the state capture report has been that his side hasn't been heard at all. He has said that he hasn't been given enough time to respond to the allegations. Last week he announced that he'd been challenging it in court. (Another one!)
The papers have reported that Zuma has it in for Madonsela because of the report, which has badly embarrassed him and brought his calamitous presidency to a crisis point. (The ANC's national executive committee spent all weekend doing the unthinkable – having a real, blood-on-the-floor debate about whether or not to recall its president.) It increasingly appears as if the new PP is going to avail herself to the president's plan.
It isn't immediately clear what the point of the media statement is at all, as it doesn't change the status quo. She's still asked the police to look into Madonsela, because she thinks she might have acted criminally. Vague explanations make for terrible PR. Poor explanations are demoralising for the people who might have otherwise backed you. If the statement was meant to help build public trust in her, she has achieved exactly the opposite instead.
If Mkhwebane has Vanilla Ice on speed dial – probably not – then she might call him sometime. He can tell her a thing or two about trying out an ill-thought out bluff in public. (Hint: it doesn't go well.)