The Office of Public Protector has hit back at the ANC in the Eastern Cape after the party raised eyebrows over the timing of the release of the report into late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s 2018 memorial service.
The ANC’s Eastern Cape provincial executive committee (PEC) had indicated on earlier Tuesday that it was concerned that Mkhwebane released her report “on the verge” of the 1 November local governing elections.
“This stance and timing regrettable weaponised the belief that the [Public Protector] is party to intra-party and external factionalism,” ANC provincial spokesperson Loyiso Magqashela said in a statement.
The Office of the Public Protector has since rejected Eastern Cape ANC’s “baseless claims”, saying it was “disappointed” over the comments.
“Baseless allegations to the effect that the office is party to intra-party and external factionalism, that the report was timed to coincide with the provincial ANC’s election campaign and that the investigation report in question was ready two months ago are rejected with contempt,” the office said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
The Office said it would not stop exercising its powers or performing its functions “merely because an election is approaching”.
“That would be at odds with the section 181 (2) of the Constitution, which provides that the office is independent, and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and that it must be impartial and must exercise its powers and perform its functions without fear, favour or prejudice,” it added.
The institution further said it stands by its report, which was released to the public last Friday.
It has also taken note of intentions by some of the parties to obtain an order suspending the implementation of the remedial action pending the judicial review of the report.
The report found that Eastern Cape Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane and public works MEC Babalo Madikizela, including the provincial ANC, allegedly benefited from a R1.1 million tender set aside to transport mourners to Mbizana in 2018 to a memorial service for Madikizela-Mandela.
Mkhwebane found that Mabuyane, who was the MEC for economic development in 2018, personally benefited to the tune of R450,000, and the money was apparently used to fund renovations at his home.
A private company owned by Madikizela’s wife received R350,000 through the Mbizana Local Municipality, while the ANC in the province received the rest of the funds through its FNB fundraising account.
While there have been mounting calls from opposition parties for Mabuyane to step down, the premier as well as Madikizela have signaled their intention to challenge Mkhwebane’s report.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Eastern Cape has since opened a criminal case against Mabuyane and Madikizela, according to News24.
Eastern Cape police spokesperson Colonel Priscila Naidu said the case was opened on Sunday and would be handed over to the Hawks for investigation.
Additional reporting by Thapelo Lekabe