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PP @AdvBMkhwebane currently addressing BLA Student Chapter at Unisa
PP: Let me express a word of gratitude to the Student Chapter of the Black Lawyers Association here at UNISA for putting issues affecting women high up on the agenda when there are many other issues of a legal nature that could have been discussed.
PP: I wish to thank this Student Chapter of the Black Lawyers Association for having deemed me a worthy participant in such a pertinent dialogue.
PP: I am very passionate about finding solutions to the problems that confront women. I am equally passionate about matters of law. This makes our engagement today a happy place for me.
PP: I must say though that my only gripe with this session is that the issues under discussion tend to be confined to this one month year in and year out.
PP: I am of the strong view that the plight of women should be a subject of robust discussion throughout the year and should not be limited to the month of August because it is that important an issue.
PP: As women, we do not get violated only in August. We are not overlooked for employment positions of influence and other opportunities only in August.
PP: These and other manifestations of gender discrimination rear their ugly heads all year round and should be confronted there and then.
The question is: why then do we wait until the eighth month of the year to interrogate these thorny issues?
PP: It is well and good that in 1994 government saw it fit to set aside 09 August and indeed the entire month as a day and period during which we remember those that came before us and showed us, in 1956, how to confront the challenges facing us.
PP: But that does not mean women’s issues must take a backseat at any other time of the year only to enjoy attention in August.
PP: I remain hopeful though that we will get to a point where our plight deserves a mention in January, February, March and every other month of the year.
PP: I think that would make many of our Guardian Angels—among them Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela-Mandela, Mama Lillian Ngoyi, Mama Ruth Segomotsi Mompati, Mama Adelaide Tambo, Mama Albertina Sisulu, among many other—very proud to call us their daughters.
PP: We owe it to them and future generations of women to pick up the spear to fearlessly and resiliently carry on with the struggle for the real emancipation of women.
PP: Just this week, I was writing an article to be placed in a magazine published by another university and targeted at the student community in that institution’s different campuses.
PP: When I was approached to write for that publication, I readily accepted just like I did when I received your letter of invitation. I did that because am very fond of engaging with students.
PP: My interest in how students react to challenges they are confronted with and to developments in the country grows every day ever since the famous #FeesMustFall uprisings which took the country by storm.
PP: Last year, I toured institutions of higher learning across the country to engage students on a variety of issues involving my office.
PP: Last Friday, I visited another university, where I was a participant in a panel discussion concerning the work of my office. I will be honoring an invite from yet another university next week.
PP: I must say I have found the students at the universities I have visited thus far to be very engaging and alive to the challenges that confront them as students and indeed the country at large.
PP: The points they put across during the session left me in awe and assured that the future of this country is in good hands.
PP: After all, many of our country’s leaders such as Mandela, Tambo and Biko were active and vocal during their student days.
PP: But, as students, you endure a lot before you can obtain your degrees. I have heard heart-breaking stories of how some students go to bed without meals, sleep in bathrooms and are forced to drop out as a result of these hardships.
PP: I have also heard that, despite the apparent successes of the #FeesMustFall protest, students still face financial exclusion and that there is possibly a lot of maladministration in the administration of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
PP: Trust me when I say, I can relate. I know how it is to not have tuition fees and yet have this hunger to further your studies.
PP: I was born to and raised by a domestic worker mom and a farmworker dad in the impoverished mining town of Bethal in Mpumalanga.
PP: And so, my parents could not afford university fees. But I had this burning desire to study. I was torn between social work and law. Both drew me to the plight of the poor and marginalized. In the end, I went with law.
PP: Law was going to give me an opportunity to deal with issues of social justice and the broader issues of access to justice.
PP: Another factor that saw me gravitating towards law was my experience as a teenage mother, which exposed me to the maintenance court at a very early age.
PP: It was at that point that I approached then KwaNdebele government, which later approved my application for a bursary.
PP: I obtained my legal qualifications—a B Proc and an LLB—at what was known then as Turfloop University, now the University of Limpopo.
PP: I entered the job market immediately on completion of my studies. I was employed by the then KwaNdebele government as a prosecutor in 1994. I had to work for the state as part of the bursary agreement.
PP: In later years, I worked a number of institutions including the Department of Justice, where I was a Legal Administration Officer and the South African Human Rights Commission, where i was a researcher.
PP: I then moved the PP where I spent 6 years as a senior investigator and later head of the provincial office; Home Affairs where I spent 11 years in senior management within the department’s immigration services component and then State Security Agency, where I was an analyst.
PP: Throughout my career, I have always been human rights-orientated. I have largely focused on human rights law including extradition law, human rights research and refugee law.
PP: In 2016, I made a return to PP this time as head of the institution following a rigorous and transparent selection process carried out by a parliamentary multi-party ad-hoc committee and a recommendation which resulted in a stamp of approval from then President, Jacob Zuma.
PP: I had to compete for the position with 58 other people, including Judge Siraj Desai, my deputy Adv. Kevin Malunga, Deputy NDPP Adv. Willie Hofmeyr and former lecturer Adv. Bongani Majola, who has since been appointed chairperson of , the Human Rights Commission.
PP: That appointment has turned out to be my career highlight but it has also turned out to be the most challenging of all the positions I have ever held mainly because it is a high profile position and puts one on a collision cause with very powerful political figures.
PP: My office is among an arsenal of independent constitutional institutions established in terms of section 181 of and under the 9th chapter of the Constitution, hence they are affectionately known as “Chapter 9” institutions.
PP: Like the courts, my office is independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law, must be impartial and exercise its powers and perform its functions without fear, favour or prejudice.
PP: Other organs of state have a duty to assist and support my office to ensure its independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness.
PP: In addition, no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of this office. These provisions are similar to those applicable to the courts.
PP: But that is not where parallels between this office and the courts end. The process of appointing a Public Protector or removing one from office and that of appointing a judge or removing one from the bench bears a striking similarity.
PP: The only difference being that the courts rely on the Judicial Service Commission while Public Protector appointment and removal processes rely on multi party Parliamentary ad hoc committees.
PP: Furthermore, both the courts and the Public Protector make binding directives; the courts call them “orders”, we call them “remedial action”.
PP: The Constitution, in section 182, confers on my office the power to investigate, to report on and to appropriately remedy any alleged or suspected improper conduct in state affairs or in the public administration, in any sphere of government.
PP: My office, which must be accessible to all persons and communities, has additional powers conferred by national legislation such as the Public Protector Act
PP: In terms of PP Act I am empowered to investigate undue delays in the delivery of public services; unfair, capricious or discourteous behaviour; abuse of power; abuse of state resources, dishonesty or improper dealings in respect of public money and improper enrichment
PP: My office also has a corruption mandate in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.
PP: When we investigate in terms of this law and establish evidence of corruption, which is a criminal offense, we defer to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, to take the matter further and bring in the NPA
PP: My office is also a safe haven for whistle-blowers under the Protected Disclosures Act.
PP: It is under this law that we cushion the heroes in government who blow the whistle on wrongdoing from suffering what is called occupation detriment, which could come in a form of retaliation or a backlash from those fingered in the wrongdoing.
PP: My office further has the exclusive power to enforce the Executive Ethics Code under the Executive Members’ Ethics Act.
PP: Along with the investigation of politically sensitive issues such as the ABSA/Bankorp lifeboat and the so-called “Rogue Unit”, this is one piece of legislation has put me on blast and placed a bull’s eye on my back.
PP: It was under this law that my office investigated the Bosasa issue involving the President following a complaints from opposition parties, the DA and EFF—not ANC factions as critics like to allege.
PP: It was also under this law that I found that former Ministers Lynne Brown and Des van Rooyen misled Parliament and thus breached the Executive Code of Ethics, findings which eventually led to their respective release from Cabinet by the President.
PP: Under this law, complaints about suspected breaches of the Executive Code of Ethics can only be received from Members of the Executive, Members of Parliament and Members of the Provincial Legislature and can only be investigated by my office and no other forum.
PP: What this effectively does is it gives Members of Parliament sitting on opposition benches exclusive ammunition to take their political rivals who are Ministers and Presidents to task, using my office.
PP: That thrusts us into the heart of domestic politics. In terms of that law, under no circumstances can we decline to investigate, which is why some people go as far as to ignorantly accuse us of “playing politics”.
PP: From the very beginning of my term of office, I have been on the defensive against unwarranted attacks. Now there is a threat to remove me from office under the pretext that I am incompetent. The argument is that some of my reports have been set aside by the courts.
PP: I strongly believe I am being targeted because I dared to touch those that are seen by some as paragons of virtue.
PP: If you remove the head of this office merely because a court has set aside her reports, then you will have to remove judges from the bench because an appellate court has set their ruling aside.
PP: But, as a woman leader, what do you do when faced with such challenges?
PP: A responsibility like the one I’m entrusted with requires one to develop a very thick skin. I am not going to allow any distractions. I am focused on taking the services of this office grassroots.
PP: My eyes are firmly fixed on bringing justice to those that do not have the means to take government to court when wronged by officials.
PP: Such cases include one where we successfully intervened in a dispute over a R17 000 tuition debt involving a University of Venda student.
PP: Before the settlement of the matter, the student could not obtain her academic record and qualification certificate. That is all in the past now.
PP: We also ensured that the Mining Qualification Authority makes good on its undertaking to process a R19 000 bursary, which it had approved for a Johannesburg University (UJ) student and three months later, the funds were paid into UJ’s bank account.
PP: We also successfully dealt with a similar case involving a R26 300 bursary for a Tshwane North TVET College student.
PP: These are the issues that help sleep peacefully at night, knowing that my office turned someone’s life around, not the political matters, which at any rate account for a fraction of our caseload.
PP: Other case that we finalised is one where we helped a 66-year-old former civil servant to receive more than R1million in arrear pension benefits which had been outstanding for over five years.
PP: In another case, we, within two weeks of being entrusted with the complaint, helped to bring to an end a Limpopo man’s three-year struggle to access an amount of R250 000 kept for him in the Master of the High Court’s Guardian’s Fund.
PP: We also helped a distraught Western Cape mother to receive over R300 000 in arrear and future child maintenance, giving effect to several court orders which directed that the defaulting father’s pension benefits be attached for this purpose.
PP: Prior to our intervention, the orders had seemingly been ignored.
PP: All these and more are among the cases we disposed of in the year ending 31 March 2019. That is the financial year during which we achieved 72% of our performance targets – up from 50% in the preceding year.
PP: In that period, we issued 46 formal investigation reports, which was 16 more than we had planned and finalised 99% of our caseload within specified timeframes, where we were a percentage point short of achieving our target.
PP: We also managed to finalise only 77% of aging cases of two years and older. All in all, we were able to finalise 9 912 out of a total workload of 14 147 cases.
PP: These modest successes are an add-on to the office’s successful run since I assumed duty, during which period I dealt with nearly 50 000 matters, finalizing around 70% of those.
PP: In addition, I have, since taking the wheel, produced more than 100 formal investigation reports. More than 70 of these reports have not been challenged in court and only one report and aspects of two others have to date been set aside by the courts.
PP: And yet it is said I am underperforming.
PP: It must be noted that this is not the first time the DA, which did not support my candidacy for this position on the basis of an unsubstantiated claim that I am a spy, has brought the issue of my fitness to hold office to the attention of the Speaker.
PP: They unsuccessfully did it in the 5th Parliament.
PP: Should the inquiry into my fitness to hold office see the light of day, after the rules governing the whole process have been developed, I will submit myself to the process.
PP: Some of you will one day occupy positions such as that of Public Protector, positions which will expose you to political, civil society, judicial and media hostility.
PP: When you are in that position, defend yourself to the bitter end. As you do, be prepared to lose, to be vilified, to turned into a laughing stock and even to be bankrupted. I am.
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