06/02/2017 06:01 SAST | Updated 06/02/2017 13:26 SAST

Thuli Madonsela: Staff Who Worked On The State Capture Report Are Being Targeted By Busisiwe Mkhwebane

A string of staff have left the public protector's office, while moves seem to be afoot around the high profile state capture report they worked on.

Then public protector Thuli Madonsela speaks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa May 10, 2016.
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Then public protector Thuli Madonsela speaks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa May 10, 2016.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela has taken issue with how her former staff members have been forced out of the office of the public protector under her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

"There is a pattern with the people who left," Madonsela told The Huffington Post SA on Sunday. "Only those who worked closely with me and were involved in some or other meeting around state capture."

Madonsela was speaking from the U.S., where she is currently a Harvard Advanced Leadership fellow.

HuffPost SA has revealed in a series of stories how senior staff associated with Madonsela were being forced out of the office, sometimes with the office flouting labour regulations to do so.

HuffPost SA reported on Thursday last week that advocate Nkebe Kanyane, who was the chief investigator for the high profile State of Capture report, was the latest to resign. The news broke as Mkhwebane delivered her report on her first 100 days in office on Thursday, which have proven to be tumultuous. When questioned about Kanyane's departure she said: "We have good quality and skilled employees, any organisation would like to employ them. She voluntarily resigned and she's been offered a better offer somewhere else."

The way Mr Dlamini was taken out was inhuman and cruel.Thuli Madonsela

The highly anticipated State of Capture report was Madonsela's final major investigation during her time in office. She was investigating allegations of an improper relationship between President Jacob Zuma and the powerful and politically-connected Gupta family whom the president has referred to as his friends. The report called for the establishment of a judicial commission to investigate the allegations.

Mkhwebane, who took over the report from Madonsela, said on Thursday she would be seeking legal opinion on President Jacob Zuma's decision to take the State of Capture report on review, even though she had filed a notice to oppose the application as was expected of the office. The fact that she is seeking the legal opinion indicates that she may withdraw her notice, which would be in Zuma's favour.

It is a stark contrast from Madonsela's tenure, where she gained a reputation for standing up to government and Zuma. It earned her censure and even death threats from her critics but made her generally wildly popular with the South African public.

In response to Madonsela's claim, Mkhwebane's spokesperson Oupa Segalwe told HuffPost SA: "Two staff members that assisted Adv. Madonsela with the "State of Capture" investigation, Adv. Livhuwani Tshiwalule and Adv. Nkebe Kanyane, have resigned. They resigned merely because they got better offers elsewhere. Had they not been approached by other employers, they would still be here."

Madonsela said while she was enjoying her new projects since she left her post, the treatment of the staff she left behind worried her.

"I've been saddened by how people who have been seen to be close to me have been treated, seemingly because they were close to me." Madonsela said. "That's weighed heavily on me as a human. The way Mr Dlamini was taken out was inhuman and cruel. He committed no crime other than working for me."

Dlamini said the new public protector sent her bouncers to usher him out.

In late December Mkhwebane, who took office in October 2016, sent Madonsela's chief of staff, Bonginkosi Dlamini, packing. He was marched out of the building over claims he was a threat to her security, HuffPost SA revealed. Dlamini said the new public protector sent her bouncers to usher him out. Dlamini was sidelined from his senior position when Mkhwebane took over and was temporarily moved to the office of the CEO as the senior manager: strategy support. His employment was then terminated in December and Mkhwebane offered to settle the remainder of the months on his contract.

He was replaced by customer services manager Linda Molelekoa.

"To say his skills are not suitable... how are Linda's skills appropriate?" asked Madonsela.

Madonsela was also grieved at how staff has been "ruthlessly removed".

HuffPost SA has learned from two previous staff members at the public protector that Molelekoa had shown her colleagues an SMS from Mkhwebane promising to appoint her as the chief of staff -- before Mkhwebane herself was appointed in the role of public protector by Parliament.

Madonsela was also grieved at how staff members had been "ruthlessly removed".

"Even in company takeovers they don't deal with it in that way. We saw it as a handover. This was treated as a hostile take over and people were treated as hostile.

"That saddened me how staff was being treated because I knew these were great human beings. Many of them I found there," she said, referencing when she first started her term at the office. "They are neutral, they were just concerned with doing their jobs."

To say we are working together, knowing full well she refused to get a handover, is bizarre.Thuli Madonsela

Within her first three months in office, Mkhwebane fired a former special adviser, Janine Hicks, who in turn took her to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Mkhwebane lost the case and was ordered to pay Hicks for the duration of her contract for unfairly dismissing her. Hicks worked on contract in the private office of the public protector during Madonsela's tenure until Mkhwebane took over.

Mkhwebane also cancelled a staffer's trip leaving her stranded in Durban after ordering the cancellation of her accommodation and return flight. Former journalist Belinda Moses, a member of the public protector's office's communications team, had accommodation booked for a week so she could work at the African Ombudsman and Mediators' Association (Aoma) general assembly in Durban, but it is understood that Mkhwebane was not happy with her presence.

Madonsela broke her silence over her successor, Mkhwebane, after the 100 day press briefing. She has given several interviews since, refuting some of the claims Mkhwebane has made, including that the two had worked well together.

"To say we are working together, knowing full well she refused to get a handover," Madonsela told HuffPost SA. "That is bizarre."

She has also taken issue with a deduction from her pension pay-out for a car that her son crashed. Madonsela told eNCA on Friday that while she did not have evidence, she had a feeling that she was being punished for finding negatively against Zuma in the Nkandla saga. The presidency said it was outraged by the claim.

This article was updated with a response from the office of the public protector at 1:30pm on February 06, 2017.