Busisiwe Mkhwebane Biography | Background | Age | Qualifications | Career | Controversies as Public Protector | Impeachment
Busisiwe Mkhwebane, a South African advocate, prosecutor, and ombudsman, held the position of the 4th Public Protector of South Africa from 2016 to 2023. However, her tenure was marred by numerous controversies, leading to her impeachment by the National Assembly of South Africa on September 11, 2023. This marked a historic moment as she became the first head of a Chapter 9 institution to be removed through impeachment.
She was born in Bethal in the then Transvaal province (now Mpumalanga).
Busisiwe Mkhwebane was born on February 2, 1970.
She matriculated from Mkhephula Secondary School in 1988. Mkhwebane furthered her education by obtaining a BProc and an LLB from the University of the North (now the University of Limpopo). Subsequently, she pursued a diploma in corporate law and a higher diploma in tax at the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg). In 2010, she completed her Masters in Business Leadership at the University of South Africa.
Mkhwebane’s career path saw her initially join the Department of Justice as a Public Prosecutor in 1994. She then transitioned to the role of Legal Administrative Officer in the International Affairs Directorate in 1996. Later, in 1998, she joined the South African Human Rights Commission as a senior researcher and moved on to serve as a senior investigator and acting provincial representative at the Public Protector’s office the following year. Her career continued with roles at the Department of Home Affairs, including directorships related to refugee affairs and asylum seekers management.
Between 2010 and 2014, she served as a Counselor in Immigration and Civic Services at South Africa’s embassy in China, during which her financial activities raised questions. Notably, her bank account was flagged by HSBC for receiving a US$ 5,000 payment from the Gupta family, allegedly related to a controversial railway contract with China South Rail. Mkhwebane denied these allegations.
Returning to South Africa in 2014, she became a director at the Department of Home Affairs, specifically in the area of country information and cooperation management. Following this, she worked briefly as an analyst for the State Security Agency from July 2016 to October 2016 before her appointment as Public Protector in October 2016. It was revealed during her appointment that she had a close relationship with then-President Jacob Zuma.
Mkhwebane also served as a board member for the Refugee Fund and as the Director of Business Development at Iyanilla Bricks.
Controversies as Public Protector
Mkhwebane’s tenure as Public Protector was marked by several controversies, leading to calls for her removal by political parties such as the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People, as well as civil society organizations like COSATU and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse. Some of the notable controversies included:
Her report into the alleged improper acceptance of a R500,000 donation to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign from BOSASA was widely criticized. The report was later set aside by the courts, with allegations of factual inaccuracies, legal errors, and exceeding her powers.
South African Reserve Bank
Mkhwebane attempted to draft changes to the Constitution to nationalize and remove the independence of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) without consulting government economists or legal scholars. This move led to a loss of confidence in South Africa’s governmental bonds and subsequent legal challenges.
Her report on the Absa Bank investigation faced legal setbacks, with the Pretoria High Court setting aside her order for Absa Bank to refund R1.125 billion to the government. The court criticized her conduct, including lying under oath and acting in bad faith.
Vrede Dairy Project
Her report into the Vrede Dairy Project was declared unconstitutional and set aside by the Gauteng High Court, with costs awarded against Mkhwebane personally.
Mkhwebane’s office released a report accusing former Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan of “violating the constitution.” The report was challenged in court and suspended pending a judicial review.
The controversies surrounding Mkhwebane’s tenure ultimately led to her impeachment by the National Assembly on September 11, 2023, just one month before the end of her 7-year non-renewable term. This historic impeachment denied her a ten-million-rand gratuity that she would have otherwise been entitled to.