Mkhwebane’s inquiry adjourned abruptly due to technical issue

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The Section 194 Parliamentary inquiry into suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office adjourned abruptly after former Senior Manager in the Public Protector’s Office Reginald Ndou disappeared from the virtual platform due to signal problems.

He was still being cross examined by Mkhwebane’s legal representative Dali Mpofu on Thursday afternoon when he lost signal. The Committee had to adjourn and Ndou will is expected to return to the witness stand on Tuesday next week.

Earlier in the day, Ndou’s signal was on and off, apparently due to suspected load shedding. However, he could no longer connect while being cross examined due to the weather conditions where he is located in the Eastern Cape.

Mpofu cross examined Ndou extensively on the Vrede Dairy report.

Ndou told Mpofu that he cannot recall seeing any report where Provincial Head of the Public Protector’s Office in the Free State, Sphelo Samuel implicated politicians. Samuel, who had already concluded testifying for four days  over two weeks ago, told the inquiry that Mkhwebane had instructed that the names of politicians should not be included in the Vrede Dairy report.

Samuel had made reference to former Free State Premier Ace Magashule and former Agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.

He (Samuel) said he made adverse finding against the two politicians in his revised draft report after Mkhwebane allegedly refused to subpoena politicians who were not co-operating with the Vrede Dairy investigation.

This is how Mpofu questioned Ndou:

MPOFU asks: “Have you ever seen any report by Mr Samuel in which he was implicating the politicians in anything other than what you and I have discussed?”

NDOU replies: “I do not recall seeing that report chairperson.”

MPOFU: ” Yes, well then that’s probably because it doesn’t exist. But he calls it the revised report, which he says he single-handedly drafted and sent to you and the Public Protector but there is no such thing. The Public Protector says it doesn’t exist. You have never seen such a thing?”

NDOU responds: ” I don’t recall seeing the report.”

MPOFU: ” Yes, well you have already said there is no report that you have ever seen which implicated the politicians, than anything higher than oversight. Correct? ”

NDOU: ” Correct yes.”

NDOU’s cross examination disrupted by poor signal

Cross examination by Mpofu continued for some time. However there came a time when Ndou lost signal again. He was still  being cross examined about the adverse findings against Magashule and Zwane.

MPOFU continues: “To your knowledge has there ever been a stage where there was any adverse findings and/or implication of the Premier and or the MEC beyond what one might call oversight. In other words if there was an allegation of their failure to take disciplinary steps against the HOD (Head of Department). Would you agree that that’s really the full extent of them being implicated?”

NDOU: ” Yes in the reports that I have seen, that’s correct.”

MPOFU: ” Up to whatever was the latest at the time of your involvement. Correct?”

NDOU: “Correct”

MPOFU: ” And because there is confusion created in this committee and I suspect deliberately by some of the witnesses, that there was anything beyond what you and I have agreed that was alleged to be an adverse finding or an implication of the Premier and MEC, so thanks I am glad that you clarified that.”

And this was the last question by Mpofu before Ndou lost signal which brought the Advocate’s further cross examination to a halt.

MPOFU: ” We  will argue again at the end that the Public Protector’s version that the so-called revised report is a product of Mr Samuel’s  imagination is the only reasonable conclusion. Anyway back to what we were discussing, I’m saying that, now the Public Protector’s version will be that the Premier, let’s start with the Premier, gave a detailed version in respect of the oversight implication which was directed to him. And my understanding is that  at some stage you saw the response, you must have, because you were asked to write a follow up letter. Correct?

NDOU went silent:  “……….”

MPOFU: ” I think we have lost Mr Ndou again Chairperson”

DYANTYI intervenes: ” Ok let’s check. It seems to have frozen again. We’ll try and locate him again. Just a pause. This time it might be real load shedding.”

The committee had to break in an attempt to locate Ndou to get back to the virtual platform but without success. It had to adjourn.

Dyantyi made the announcement about the difficulty faced by Ndou.

“We don’t seem to the  succeeding to be getting back Mr Ndou. Where he is, he’s gotten off the platform  whereby something’s beyond his control. We are told where he is there’s a storm. So, it’s not load shedding, basically. So, it will take time to get him reconnected and get him back. So, it does seem that we could not gather any momentum. The only momentum we had was in the morning with the evidence leader, I don’t know what touch he had that everything just moved. And as you know that we would have been off tomorrow and have a hectic week next week . So in front of us now is that we have no choice to pursue for the day and have Mr Ndou joining us on Monday or any of the day next week. It will depend on Advocate Bawa and the team. Next week was already full,” said Dyantyi.

Ndou’s cross examination expected to resume on Tuesday

After Dyantyi’s announcement, Evidence Leader Nazreen Bawa said Ndou could return on Tuesday for cross examination. It will be a day after former Chief Operating Officer in the Office of the Public Protector Basani Baloyi will take the stand when the inquiry resumes next Monday.

“I think what we’ll do, we have Miss Basani Baloyi scheduled for Monday and (get) to her commitments. We would not like to create any difficulties for her. So we will leave her scheduled for Monday. We will have to endeavor to have Mr Ndou for Tuesday and we’ll  speak to Thembinkosi and realign things for next week and I’ll let you know,” said Bawa.

SMS from Mkhwebane to Basani to come to the fore

When Baloyi is expected to takes the stand on Monday morning,  a text message that Mkhwebane may not have trusted Senior Manager for Executive Support in the Office of the Public Protector Futana Tebele is expected to come to the fore.

Tebele was taken by surprise by the revelation. The text message emerged on 3 August 2022 when he testified during the inquiry. He only became aware of it on the day of the hearing. The message, which was screened during the inquiry, was revealed by Evidence Leader Advocate Ncumisa Mayosi. She had told Tebele that the SMS will form part of Baloyi’s testimony.

” She will testify that on the 18 of February 2019 soon after she started at the PPSA, she received a text from the PP that reads as follows; “COO careful of what you hear from Pona and Tebele. But you are an adult be wise.”

She will of course say she interpreted that to mean that she should not trust you. But my question to you, do you know any reason why the PP would issue such a warning about you, do you know what this related to?” Mayosi  asked Tebele after reading the text message.

While taken by surprise, Tebele still insisted that Mkhwebane trusted him.

“Well it’s for the first time that I see the note (SMS) and throughout my working in PPSA (Public Protector of South Africa) and working with Public Protector Adv Mkhwebane, I have never created an environment where I  believe that I would have been not trusted, but I will leave it up to the Public Protector, because I wouldn’t know why she said what she said, if it’s her who said what she said. I always believe[d] that she trusts[s] me and even today I still do believe that she trust[s] me and not only her, but even the CEO that I’m serving under. So, I see myself as a person who can be trusted in the institution”, stressed Tebele during his testimony more than two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, when Ndou is expected to return on Tuesday, he will not only be cross examined by Mpofu but committee members will also have an opportunity to ask questions after Mpofu has concluded.