Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is backing President Jacob Zuma's argument that her predecessor Thuli Madonsela's recommendation that the chief justice should appoint a judge to head the inquiry into state capture is flawed, reported the Sunday Times.
Mkhwebane told the newspaper that she believed that any judge, even one appointed by Zuma, would be capable of investigating the Gupta family's alleged influence on Zuma's cabinet, because the judiciary was independent.
Last week it was reported that Mhkwebane had filed notice to oppose Zuma's application for a judicial review of Madonsela's report, "State of Capture", but was still taking legal advice on whether to proceed with the matter. The Sunday Times said this was seen as a clear indication that Mkhwebane is likely to withdraw her notice to oppose Zuma.
"[We are checking] whether we dictate to the president for someone else to appoint or perform the president's functions [to appoint the judge]," she told the Sunday Times. "The judiciary is independent. Therefore any judge can perform any duty without fear or favour."
That was the basis of Zuma's application to the High Court in Pretoria to take the controversial state capture report on review.
Mkhwebane has also been involved in what is now becoming a protracted public spat with her predecesor. Mkhwebane has alleged that Madonsela must pay nearly R500,000 for failing to return her state vehicle and damage caused to it by her son, while Madonsela has disputed this and said she thought Zuma and the State Security Agency may have been involved in some of the attacks on her. The Sunday Independent reported that Madonsela has now called on Zuma to prove he didn't have an influence on Mkhwebane's appointment.
On Saturday, the Presidency weighed in against Madonsela, saying the Presidency was "outraged" by utterances by the former Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela on eNCA that she is being "targeted" by President Jacob Zuma on reported deductions from her gratuity" and calling on her to stop accusing him.
Mkhwebane told the Saturday Star she was being unfairly targeted and asked for a chance to prove herself.
"It is natural with every transition that there be a bit of turbulence, especially with the changing of the guard. However, what I did not expect was the peddling of half-truths, fabrications, innuendos and vitriol about me and the office," she told the Saturday Star.
The Sunday Independent reported that Madonsela apologised to the president but still viewed the accusations against her seriously and called on Zuma to explain his role in Mkhwebane's appointment. "The matter is not about the presidency. The matter is about Mr. Zuma as a person," she told the newspaper. "I do have a suspicion about how the public protector was appointed." She said a former colleague had shown her a text message received from Mkhwebane — before Mkhwebane had been appointed — saying "You're my future chief of staff".
Also in the Sunday Times, columnist Barney Mthombothi criticised Mkhwebane as trying to rescue her own reputation in the face of a "widely held view" that she was a deployee destroying a fine institution. "She's lost the plot. She's self-absorbed. It's all about her — the public protector from hell. If her reputation has been impugned, she has nobody to blame but herself," wrote Mthombothi.