REPORTS on Sunday that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is again under pressure — through leaks from her office and African National Congress (ANC) office-bearers — do not appear to surprise those familiar with her findings.
Ms Madonsela is perceived as a champion by those who believe the ANC is corrupt. As a result, it was only a matter of time before some ANC members would move against her. However, the constitution makes it very difficult to remove her. In addition, public opinion appears to back her.
Ms Madonsela was appointed in 2009, in a move that surprised those who knew her. She was described as independent, which appeared to mark a change from her predecessor, Lawrence Mushwana, who seemed to perennially rule in favour of the government, or the ANC.
In the only case in which he had to rule on a matter involving different ANC groups, he sided with President Jacob Zuma. When he left office, it was with a R7m golden handshake. Days later, the ANC-dominated Parliament appointed him chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
But Ms Madonsela’s track record is very different. Her investigation into former national police commissioner Bheki Cele — until that point an ally of Mr Zuma — saw Mr Zuma dismiss Mr Cele and public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, amid growing public pressure.
When Ms Madonsela was pulled into the furore over allegations of kickbacks to former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema from Limpopo provincial government contracts, her final report appeared to damn Mr Malema.
Now it appears that her deputy, Mamiki Shai, is one of the people mobilising against her, by writing a dossier to Parliament claiming she is biased in favour of the Democratic Alliance.
This claim, with several others, could lead to a parliamentary investigation.
And in April Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande accused Ms Madonsela of being selective in her investigations, asking why an investigation into the South African Broadcasting Corporation should take a long time, while that against the South African Police Service was concluded within weeks. Ms Madonsela told a parliamentary committee on Friday that Mr Nzimande had not responded to her queries.
However, the constitution treats the office of the public protector as it does that of the auditor-general. By doing so, it appears to elevate these two offices above those of the other chapter nine institutions.
A public protector is appointed to a nonrenewable term of seven years. The document says she can only be removed from office after a finding by Parliament of "misconduct, incapacity or incompetence".
A two-thirds majority in the National Assembly is needed to impeach her — which the ANC does not have.
At the same time, Ms Madonsela’s supporters include virtually all of the opposition parties. It has become a popular tactic to report perceived wrongdoing by ANC officials to her office.
The ANC could also feel the backlash from its efforts to push through the Protection of State Information Bill, which saw all the opposition parties vote together against it for the first time. It is possible this unity would be used in defence of the public protector. It is also very likely that there would be a vociferous public campaign to protect her, and the ANC would be painted as trying to steam-roll a constitutionally protected office that acts independently.
These factors make it unlikely that the party would unseat her.
• Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk