Building resilience amid events that divide public opinion the biggest challenge Gcaleka has faced

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Acting Public Protector, Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka says one of the biggest challenges she has faced at the institution is to build resilience within the organisation amid events in the country that have divided public opinion.

Speaking at a Youth Month event at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban another focus she says is safeguarding the impartiality of the Public Protector’s office.

Gcaleka has been heading the institution for the past year after the suspension of Advocate Busiswe Mkhwebane, which has culminated in a section 194 investigation by parliament into her fitness to hold office.

At the same time, the public protector’s is facing calls to make public the Phala Phala report.

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Gcaleka says the disruption of the Youth Month event organised by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Law School in Durban was not unexpected. The group of protesting students demanded the release of the Phala Phala report into the 2020 theft at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm.

Gcaleka says the report is undergoing a quality assurance process, the final step before its release.

“As an institution, we need to lead with integrity as we call for that particular integrity. And it must not only be perceived; it must be seen to be done. And it is in the decisions that we take, which must withstand the scrutiny of the law. And I want to emphasize the scrutiny of the law, not just the views and perceptions.”

Gcaleka says one of the biggest challenges she’s faced over the past year in her role as acting public protector, has been to build resilience within the institution amid divisions in the country.

“No matter who is involved, it is not who we are dealing with, it is the conduct that we are dealing with. The moment we replace the conduct with a person, that is where we lose the impartiality, that is where we lose our independence, and that is where we lose conducting our investigation without fear, favour or prejudice. It shouldn’t be with prejudice.”

She says parliament’s section 194 inquiry into Advocate Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office as public protector is positive for accountability in the country.

“Bitter as it may seem, but I think it is historic and it is good for the strengthening of this democracy that we actually have the inquiry that we are having in parliament currently. Whichever outcome it will come out with, but it shows that there is no one, no one who can’t be subjected to accountability and responsiveness.”

Gcaleka told students that the continued corruption following the public outcry after allegations about state capture came to light, shows a lack of accountability and responsiveness within government.

“The manner in which people reacted to state capture, it was in a manner … we don’t want this in our country, you know. But did we see a responsive leadership in respect of that and many other corruption deeds that continue to happen in our country? And by the way, corruption in our country did not stop with state capture. We continue to see it taking place, which means that there is a huge deficiency in terms of accountability and responsiveness.”

In a statement, the University of KwaZulu-Natal says they are investigating the circumstances around the disruption of the event, which was relocated to a staff lounge. The university would not comment on the reasons for the disruption.