South Africa’s parliament on Wednesday approved high-level civil servant Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s nomination to replace outgoing Thuli Madonsela as Public Protector, a top anti-corruption position whose findings have vexed President Jacob Zuma.
Mkhwebane, 46, a lawyer whose most recent job was with the State Security Agency (SSA), has also worked as a director at Home Affairs and as an immigration official in China.
Madonsela led high-profile investigations that subjected Zuma and other government officials to unwelcome scrutiny.
Mkhwebane’s nomination was approved with 263 votes in favour, 79 against and 1 abstention. Her name will now go to Zuma for his assent, which is likely after she was backed overwhelmingly by the ruling African National Congress.
If approved, she would replace Madonsela, whose seven-year, non-renewable term ends in October. The Public Protector position has a constitutional mandate to investigate misconduct and abuse in state affairs.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) declined to support Mkhwebane due to her work with the SSA, which has responsibility for civilian intelligence operations, saying this could prevent her from taking on cases implicating senior government officials.
“The Public Protector cannot be seen to be even remotely connected to the State Security Agency,” Glynnis Breytenbach, the DA’s shadow minister of justice said without elaborating.
Corruption Watch, a local NGO that focuses on graft issues, applauded the parliament committee that recommended Mkhwebane, said in August it was satisfied “that the final candidate got the job on merit and not for any other reason”.
During her interview in August, Mkhwebane said she was apolitical, had no criminal record and was unbiased.
Analysts said Mkhwebane – who has worked as a senior investigator in the Public Protector’s office – will have a tough act to follow.
Madonsela won acclaim for investigating major scandals in Africa’s most industrialised country.
“Her integrity will be tested immediately,” said political analyst Nic Borain.
“There are cases looming, the most obvious one is the state capture allegations, and quite soon her ability to stand above the politics of her job will be tested very quickly and we have to wait and see how she performs.”
In one of her most high-impact investigations in 2014, Madonsela found Zuma had included in a $16 million “security upgrade” to his rural Nkandla home a raft of non-security items including a swimming pool and amphitheatre.
She said Zuma should pay back the cost of those items, and her view was supported in March by South Africa’s highest court, which said Zuma had broken the law by ignoring Madonsela’s order. Zuma has since said he will pay back some of the money.
Madonsela has said she is investigating whether Zuma allowed a wealthy business family, the Gupta family, to decide on cabinet appointments. Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations made by the opposition.
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