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There was SSA involvement at Public Protector's office, committee hears

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There was SSA involvement at Public Protector's office, committee hears

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane
Photo by Reuters
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane

4th August 2022

By: News24Wire

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Former State Security Agency (SSA) director-general Arthur Fraser once called Public Protector security manager Baldwin Neshunzhi to tell him to "pull up his socks" in supporting Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the Section 194 Committee heard on Thursday.

Neshunzi testified before the committee, which is tasked with inquiring into Mkhwebane's fitness for office, on Thursday and lifted the veil on the SSA's influence at the office.

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Before he started, advocate Dali Mpofu SC, on behalf of Mkhwebane, objected to him testifying, claiming his evidence would be irrelevant. Evidence leader advocate Nazreen Bawa SC, however, differed. After 30 minutes of mostly Mpofu complaining, Neshunzi was sworn in and started his explosive testimony.

Neshunzhi was tasked with investigating whether there was something wrong with the office's leave system in that it allowed some people to appear to be at work while they actually were not.

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He could not find anything wrong. Mkhwebane was unhappy about this. According to his affidavit, he was told training had been arranged for him at the SSA.

Neshunzhi said he was given a sealed letter to take to Fraser. He was then told he had failed to investigate an alleged IT security breach properly.

Mkhwebane then instructed him to leave the office, and he had to hand in his laptop and office keys. Neshunzhi considered it a suspension. He asked whether he was suspended but did not receive an answer.

The letter to Fraser asked that the SSA "recall" Neshunzi for training.

Neshunzi was later asked to do another investigation. This time, he had to determine whether documents President Cyril Ramaphosa lodged with the office were leaked. He found there was no leak, as the Presidency issued a statement on the documents.

He said his relationship with Mkhwebane subsequently deteriorated.

"There was an expectation that I would be her ears and eyes in the office, and I was letting her down," read Neshunzhi's affidavit.

"I subsequently received a telephone call from Mr Arthur Fraser, and was informed that I was not providing the support to the [Public Protector] as I was hired to do. He advised that the [Public Protector] was complaining about my lack of support. This occurred during the end of 2019."

At the time, Fraser was employed as the national commissioner for correctional services.

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Neshunzhi said Fraser told him to "pull up your socks" and go beyond the call of duty to demonstrate his support for Mkhwebane.

At the time, he added, he did not know how he failed in his job as Mkhwebane did not directly relay it to him.  

Later, Neshunzhi sought the SSA's assistance in developing a proper case management system for the office.

He said he thought it had the required expertise as it was the "custodians of information in the state".

"One of the persons from the SSA involved was Mahendra Moodley at the SSA offices, I understood him to be an expert in IT, and in fact, some whiz kid in that field."

Moodley is the SSA operative who allegedly gave Mkhwebane the wording of her controversial recommendation in the CIEX report that Parliament should amend the Constitution on the SA Reserve Bank's mandate.

During his cross-examination of former Public Protector investigator Tebogo Kekana, Mpofu suggested Moodley was an expert on economics.

Despite Neshunzhi directly contradicting this, Mkhwebane's team did not raise the matter during cross-examination. Mpofu again said Neshunzhi's testimony was irrelevant and complained News24 reported he tried to block the testimony.

Neshunzhi continued to be questioned by MPs into the afternoon.

In the months before her appointment as Public Protector, Mkhwebane worked at the SSA.

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