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Exclusive: Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane Has Madonsela's Chief Of Staff Marched Out

She apparently cited security concerns, in the latest in a series of concerning decisions.

15/12/2016 15:23 SAST | Updated 17/01/2017 15:55 SAST

The former chief of staff in the office of the public protector has been marched out of the building, over claims he was a threat to Busisiwe Mkhwebane's security.

Bonginkosi Dhlamini, who was appointed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela, told Huffington Post South Africa the incident took place on Wednesday.

"The new public protector sent her bouncers, the so-called VIP protectors, to say I shouldn't be there because my presence is interfering with her security," Dhlamini said.

It is the latest in a string of departures from the office.

On 2 November 2016 the CEO of the public protector's office, Louisa Zondo, confirmed her resignation, citing "personal reasons".

Business Day reported in October that Madonsela's former personal assistant, Busi Jele, was also set to be redeployed — as was the only senior investigator who worked on the state capture report. Jele was temporarily moved to the complaints and stakeholder management branch.

I was told she doesn't need the team working with Madonsela in the private office.

Dhlamini said Mkhwebane seemed opposed to his presence, and others who worked closely with Madonsela, from the start.

On her first day in office Dhlamini, the then chief of staff, waited to meet with Mkhwebane only to be informed that she did not need him. "I was told she doesn't need the team working with Madonsela in the private office."

The chief of staff together with the public protector's personal assistant and other key staff work in the private office of the public protector, in close contact with the head of the organisation.

However, Dhlamini said after that incident he was moved out of the office, and given no work for two weeks before effectively being demoted to a temporary position. The two engaged further when Mkhwebane asked him to explain what he had done under Madonsela, and subsequently offered to pay him out for the remainder of his contract.

That's where we started having this fall out, finally she sent her bouncers.

Dhlamini said he was on a one-year contract with the option of renewal based on good performance, which was due to expire at the end of June 2017.

"Last week she said I must leave and she'll pay me for the rest of the six months. I said, you're not doing me a favour because of the issue of that clause," he told HuffPost SA.

Dhlamini explained that he would be robbed of the opportunity to prove his good performance and have his contract renewed to a seven-year contract, as initially discussed with Madonsela. "That's where we started having this fallout. Finally she sent her bouncers."

Dhlamini said there had been no sign of this happening in their first engagement, when Mkhwebane came to the office for a handover the Friday before starting.

I realised she was coming with a real attitude.

"The first meeting was fine. But from that day I realised something was amiss. When she was there and Advocate Madonsela was giving a verbal handover she was busy with her phone throughout. She was not interested at all," Dhlamini said. "I realised she was coming with a real attitude."

He later spoke to Mkhwebane about her staffing requirements and asked if she would like to retain Madonsela's VIP protection unit, which she vehemently opposed.

"She said: 'No, no, no! I don't want those,'" Dhlamini recounted.

"I was so surprised, they were used to the job. Even if she did not want them, did she need to say it in the manner and tone that she did?"

The incident is the latest in a series of decisions by the new public protector that have drawn criticism, and questions about her independence and plans for the office.

He said he was consulting lawyers about his options.

In response to questions by Business Day over Dhlamini's removal previously, the office said a new post was still being explored for Dhlamini. He was replaced by customer services manager Linda Molelekoa in an acting capacity.

Questions have been sent to the office of the Public Protector. This article will be updated as soon as we receive a response.

Growing criticism

The incident is the latest in a series of decisions by the new public protector that have drawn criticism, and questions about her independence and plans for the office.

In her first week in office she issued an instruction for the TV news feed to be changed from eNCA to the Gupta-owned ANN7, among a raft of other changes, the Mail & Guardian reported.

Her next shock decision was failing to oppose the interdict against the release of the "State Of Capture" report finalised by her predecessor. The interdict failed but the decision alarmed those awaiting what would emerge to be an explosive document about how President Jacob Zuma and key allies had become beholden to the controversial Gupta family.

Madonsela was a surprisingly potent public protector

Mkhwebane then went on to praise outgoing Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, who had a starring role as a Gupta vassal in Madonsela's report on state capture, when he resigned from the parastatal.

In one farcical splitting of hairs Mkhwebane denied claims that she laid a charge against her predecessor Thuli Madonsela, saying she "opened a case" at a police station instead. The case was over following a complaint from President Jacob Zuma over the leaking of an audiotape of a four-hour interview between Zuma and Madonsela.

The public protector's office is established in terms of the Constitution and the Public Protector Act. Its function is to investigate complaints made by individuals against government, its agencies, as well as organisations in which government is a stakeholder, and to advise on appropriate remedial action. Legislation has defined that the public protector enjoys the same status as a judge of the High Court. The office was established after 1994, replacing the old ombudsman, and modelled on the German and Canadian bodies. The public protector is appointed by the state president.

Madonsela was a surprisingly potent public protector, after a series of predecessors that were seen to be yes men, beholden to the ruling party. She established the office of the public protector as a fiercely independent tool to hold power to account, penning thorough and damning investigations that implicated the likes of president Jacob Zuma and his closest allies. She came under enormous pressure for her investigations and by the time her term came to an end in October 2016, she was a popular figure among many South Africans.