/EXCLUSIVE: Meet the whistleblower taking a stand against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane

EXCLUSIVE: Meet the whistleblower taking a stand against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane

He is a senior investigator and union shop steward who worked directly with Mkhwebane in the early months of her tenure. Now he has broken down a wall of secrecy to reveal explosive details of Mkhwebane’s alleged improper conduct – and of her battle against union officials who tried to hold her accountable.  


Months before deposing to an explosive affidavit flaying the conduct of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the man behind the revelations was part of a secret battle to hold Mkhwebane accountable.

The whistleblower, Tebogo Kekana, is a 41-year-old single father and admitted attorney, who has worked as an investigator with the office of the public protector since 2011. He was suspended four months ago.

Kekana confirmed the authenticity of the affidavit, which was submitted to the speaker of Parliament and The Presidency on December 13, and gave News24 and amaBhungane permission to name him.

Read the full affidavit and annexures here:

He would not comment any further, citing a clause in his suspension notice that effectively gags him.

Kekana’s affidavit alleges that Mkhwebane instructed him to insert a recommendation to alter the mandate of the Reserve Bank in her so-called CIEX report.

As we previously reported, the affidavit states that a State Security Agency official, Maiendra “Mai” Moodley, handed the recommendation to Mkhwebane during a meeting in June 2017.

Kekana was in the room at the time and had worked exclusively on the CIEX report – which provided the basis for what the Reserve Bank later described as an assault on its independence.

We further reported claims from Kekana’s affidavit that during Mkhwebane’s investigation of the Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm scandal, he and other investigators were instructed to remove information implicating politicians in wrongdoing and to ignore information contained in the #GuptaLeaks.

Now we can report that he also reveals details of an alleged crackdown by Mkhwebane on Public Service Association (PSA) union members who tried to hold her to account, only to be suspended, and allegedly hounded out of their jobs. Kekana is a PSA shop steward.

Mkhwebane refused to respond to detailed questions over the revelations in the affidavit this week, referring to a brief statement in which she described the allegations as “misinformation and lies” peddled by disgruntled former and suspended employees.

She was asked to respond to allegations that she was involved in a campaign to discredit, harass and victimise potential witnesses to her misconduct.

Cat and mouse

Revelations by Kekana, and details of the suspensions of his colleagues unearthed by News24 and amaBhungane, suggest Mkhwebane has been engaged in a strategy to discredit and silence staff who could potentially provide evidence against her.

Kekana was placed on precautionary suspension after a complaint by Isaac Matlawe, the former PSA chairperson at the public protector’s office, was sent to Mkhwebane and her chief executive, Vussy Mahlangu.

In his complaint, Matlawe alleged maladministration and nepotism.

Seemingly, instead of dealing with the allegations raised by Matlawe, Mkhwebane and Mahlangu hired law firm Diale Mogoshoa last December to investigate the leaking of confidential information to him.

Matlawe was served with a notice of intention to place him on suspension after he had already resigned and was serving his notice.

Kekana

Tebogo Kekana. Photo – Supplied

Among the supposed leaks to Matlawe were emails Kekana had sent to Matlawe (at the time still the PSA chairperson at the public protector’s office) and to other union officials.

Kekana’s laptop was seized and his emails were used as a basis to bring three charges against him for violating official communications policy.

The documents he shared with his union colleagues, some of which were sent to him accidentally, revealed questionable conduct on the part of Mahlangu and Mkhwebane.

Kekana’s suspension came just days after Paul Hoffman of Accountability Now, the original complainant in the CIEX matter, announced he had laid a charge of perjury against Mkhwebane for her dishonesty during the judicial review of the CIEX report.

Early in the battle between Kekana and his employer, he accused Mahlangu of conducting a witch hunt, and laid a formal grievance against Mahlangu for victimisation and harassment.

He never received a response to the formal grievance.

Kekana denies wrongdoing and is still fighting his suspension. At the time of deposing to his affidavit, his disciplinary inquiry hearing had not yet been held.

Blowing the whistle

Kekana was admitted as an attorney in 2006 and was in 2011 employed in the office of the public protector as an investigator, a position he held until January 2017, when Mkhwebane hand-picked him to work within her “private office”.

In this position, according to his affidavit,  Kekana worked on investigations Mkhwebane “identified” as matters she would personally oversee.

Kekana states that he reported directly to Mkhwebane, attending to queries and correspondence on her behalf and drafting, editing and reviewing public protector reports.

It was in this capacity that Kekana worked on the CIEX report, and for a short time also worked on the Vrede dairy farm report.

It was a position he occupied until December 2017, when he was transferred to the provincial investigations and integration unit. Kekana claims he was told, “Mkhwebane was of the opinion that I say too much to the lawyers.”

“In the course of my employment within the office of the public protector, I witnessed and acquired knowledge of several troubling instances of improper conduct by Advocate Mkhwebane herself,” Kekana’s affidavit reads.

He then sets out the allegations surrounding the Vrede and CIEX investigations as reported by News24 and amaBhungane over the past week.

Ambush

On May 29 this year, Kekana states, he was called by a human resources officer to attend an interview with Diale Mogashoa attorneys.

“At this meeting, Diale Mogashoa Attorneys informed me that they had been mandated to conduct an investigation by the public protector’s office. Adv Singh [Kekana’s representative] and I raised concerns about the process of the investigation and requested an assurance that it was properly constituted and lawful,” Kekana’s affidavit reads.

“I confirmed that I had not received any written correspondence regarding the purpose of the meeting, or what it was about and that it appeared to be an ambush.”

According to Kekana, the attorneys agreed to raise his concerns with the office of the public protector.

Nevertheless, a human resources official shortly after instructed him to hand over his laptop to the attorneys. When he asked why, he was referred to Mahalngu, Mkhwebane’s chief executive.

“He [Mahlangu] told me Diale Mogashoa Attorneys were conducting a fact-finding investigation into communications between Mr Baldwin Neshunzhi, the senior manager for security, and Mr Isaac Matlawe. The CEO also insisted I must hand over my laptop so that a copy of it could be made as I was a person of interest in the investigation. I handed over my laptop under protest.”

News24 and amaBhungane understand that Neshunzhi recently returned to work after an extended period of suspension. Matlawe, meanwhile, resigned in December 2018.

Kekana states that when his laptop was returned to him some two months later, he noticed that emails sent to him from Mkhwebane in 2017 – from her public protector email address and a private Gmail account – were missing. He managed to recover the emails from a backup system.

The recovered emails included crucial evidence that he attached to his whistleblower affidavit.

Timeline

 Here is a timeline of events in 2019 from Kekana’s affidavit:

          June 7: Kekana files a formal grievance about the legitimacy of the investigation into him, and the potential security concerns surrounding the seizure of his laptop. He gets no response.

          June 27: Kekana receives a letter asking him to comment on preliminary findings by the attorneys that he had disseminated confidential information without authority to do so.

          July 5: Kekana responds, denying the allegations and requesting further information and a more detailed explanation of the charges so that he can respond in detail

          July 23: He receives a notice of intention to place him on precautionary suspension as the CEO, Mahlangu, is of the view that he has not provided satisfactory answers to the allegations made against him in the June 27 letter.

          July 29: Kekana responds raising several issues including the lack of reasons provided for the decision to place him on precautionary suspension.

          August 27: Kekana is placed on precautionary suspension.

His disciplinary, which has been postponed several times, is due to get underway in January.

Reporting by Kyle Cowan and Sam Sole, with additional reporting by Sarah Evans

 

an amaBhungane investigationThe amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit, co-produced this story. Like  it?  Be  an  amaB  Supporter to  help us do more. Sign up for our newsletter to get more.

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