Mkhwebane Faces Goebbels-Style Propaganda

By Pinky Khoabane

AT its most basic, propaganda is the art of circulating biased or misinformation through mass media with the intention of promoting a political viewpoint or agenda. The Nazis used it effectively to stir up emotions and in the process consolidate their power and cultivate the Aryan race as the master race.

Propaganda does not need to be truthful or tasteful in order to be effective. It is not objective and it is usually part of a larger agenda to influence the public towards a certain opinion.

Joseph Goebbels, director in Adolf Hitler’s Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda wrote in his diary: “No one can say your propaganda is too rough, too mean; these are not criteria by which it may be characterized. It ought not be decent nor ought it be decent nor ought it be gentle or soft or humble; it ought to lead to success.” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that to achieve its purpose, propaganda must be “limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away.”

Recent media attacks on Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane point to this strategy – harp on the same issues regardless of the facts – until the “public understands what you want him to understand”. The issues levelled against her are rehashed and the facts ignored.

There’s a well orchestrated campaign to discredit her whenever she investigates the conduct of certain political figures in government. She’s often accused of doing the bidding of factions within the ANC. In recent days, her subpoenas get leaked in an apparent attempt by those implicated to demonise her and discredit her investigations while getting public sympathy.

Despite the many tactics which were meant to remove Mkhwebane from office – waged both in establishment media, opposition parties, some in the ANC, and through parliament – she has managed to remain steadfast.

The latest is a series of articles waged through establishment media whose central theme is that she has “ruined” the “once lauded” Office of the Public Protector.

The Daily Maverick started the ball rolling: “Busisiwe Mkhwebane: How to ruin a Chapter Nine institution in 28 months”. When the PP’s spokesperson responded to rectify the incorrect information in the article, Daily Maverick refused to publish the letter. We published it here https://wp.me/p7OMJc-2jo

Citizen followed suit: “PP’s office has lost credibility under Mkhwebane – Corruption Watch …” It quoted the executive director of Corruption Watch as saying the office of the public protector had lost credibility.

“The credibility of the office has plummeted and with it goes the body that has been the stand-out public agency in confronting corruption and maladministration through the years,” David Lewis told Bloomberg. 

The issues raised are the same and like Hitler’s slogans, repeated over and over until the public understands that Mkhwebane is useless but more importantly, is to be feared and must be removed from office.

Here are the issues raised and the answers to them

Of the more than 70 reports released by Adv. Mkhwebane at least 21 are being challenged in court.

The number of reports taken on review shot up soon after the March 31, 2016 Constitutional Court judgment, which clarified that the Public Protector’s remedial action was binding unless reviewed and set aside by a court of law. The upward trend in review applications therefore started long before Adv. Mkhwebane assumed office. Then Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, even raised the development as a “risk and challenge” in the 2015/16 annual report (Page 30, paragraph 2.1).

To have a report of the Public Protector taken on judicial review does not mean the report is of a poor quality. It is, in fact, similar to appealing a court judgment – a regular occurrence. Even after those judgments are overturned on appeal, the court of first instance or the judge that would have delivered the disputed  judgment is never labelled “incompetent” because there is an appreciation of the fact that people don’t form similar views about same facts, also, people are fallible and can make mistakes.

The judicial concept of “majority/minority decision” upon which the binding decision making process is buttressed is itself the confirmation of this natural phenomenon viz. that people can have different views and judgments on similar facts. While the law provides aggrieved parties with recourse in a form of review or appeal opportunities, exercising any of those options does not mean you will win the case. The Nelson Mandela Funeral report is a case in point. Following the release of that report, the Director General of the Eastern Cape Provincial Government took it on review and jumped on the bandwagon to label the Public Protector “idiotic”. The court went on to affirm the Public Protector’s findings.

The ruling on the ABSA /SARB/ Ciex Case which is constantly being referred to as an example that Mkwhebane was biased and did not fully understand her constitutional duty

The merits of this matter never saw the light of day in court. All the issues before court proved only to be technical.

The issue pertaining to the mandate of the SARB revolved around language construction. Even the appeal whose decision is pending at Constitutional Court had to do with the technical, side issue relating to costs, and not the substance of the Report.

The conclusion that the Public Protector does not understand her constitutional duty when the thrust of her Report never got considered it, is flawed.

Here comes the fear-mongering that is one of the most effective uses of propaganda. Accusations that Mkhwebane met with members of the State Security Agency while her office was probing and compiling the ABSA report, and given that her office deals with a lot of whistle-blowers, this association with the SSA may evoke trust issues for those looking to report corruption and maladministration.

The State Security Agency was one of the respondents in the CIEX/ABSA investigation. UK asset recovery company CIEX signed a memorandum of agreement on behalf of the SA government with the National Intelligence Agency (now SSA). It is unfathomable how the Public Protector was expected to investigate the conduct of the NIA/SSA without putting questions to them.

The ANC in Parliament rejected her recommendation that the Constitution be amended to change the Reserve Bank’s mandate. The Public Protector’s office was heavily criticised for this recommendation thereafter

It is not true that the ANC in Parliament considered the Public Protector recommendations in this regard. The Public Protector, acknowledging the dispute that was created around the wording she employed to craft her remedial action in this regard, conceded that her wording was not clear enough. This aspect of her remedial action was then expunged from the Report. There was therefore nothing for MPs to consider, let alone the ANC members of parliament.

Office of Public Protector, Public Trust and Holding Public Officials to Account

  •  No less than three Cabinet Ministers lost their jobs as a direct result of Mkwhebane’s findings.
  • She has fearlessly tackled maladministration and conduct failure at institutions such as the Financial Services Board, Pikitup and politicians such as the former Minister of Police

But dearest to her heart are matters involving ordinary people

  • She recently issued a report which found evidence of maladministration involving the Department of Transport, the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications and the South African Bureau of Standards. This was in relation to the phenomenon of illegally converting goods-carrying Toyota Quantum Panel Vans into passenger-carrying minibus taxis, with devastating and at times fatal consequences for the commuting public. She directed that these unsafe vehicles be removed from public roads and that the owners be compensated. That report was welcomed by the Minister of Transport as well the main complainant who represented taxi owners and taxi organisations. There are many more examples and we share these every other day on our platforms.
  • The Public Protector’s orientation and slant towards the downtrodden is bound to put her in a collision course with the dominant class that also controls media and direct resources.
  • Mkhwebane believes in equality before the law and will pursue any case or anyone as long as she has the jurisdiction and there is merit to the claims against such persons. This is exactly what the Constitution expects of her when it provides that she must be independent, impartial and do her work without fear, favour or prejudice. In any case, those aggrieved by her decisions can always take her on review.

Criticism against the Public Protector as a Measure of her Incompetence in Office

The Public Protector is, like a judge, an adjudicator. She resolves disputes between parties. Inevitably, there will always be a party that is unhappy with her decisions.

Like all other Public Protectors before her, she will be criticised just as they have been –  in both courts of public opinion and legal courts; and by politicians.

For instance, Adv. Lawrence Mushwana was criticised by the Supreme Court of Appeal in the Mail & Guardian vs Public Protector matter, also known as the “Oil Gate matter”.

The High Court had harsh words for Adv. Madonsela’s National Empowerment Fund report.

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