South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane with immediate effect.

The presidency said on Thursday Mkhwebane would remain suspended until an impeachment process in parliament has been completed. Impeachment hearings are due to get underway on July 11. 

Ramaphosa had accorded Mkhwebane sufficient time and opportunity to make submissions and had taken into account “the nature of the public protector’s office and his own constitutional obligations”. The constitution provided that if for any reason the public protector was unable to perform her functions, her deputy would do so. 

“The absence of advocate Mkhwebane from the office will therefore not impede the progress of any investigations that are pending or underway.”

The decision came despite Mkhwebane’s attempts to litigate to prevent her suspension. A judgment from the Western Cape High Court in which she urgently sought an interim interdict preventing her suspension is pending.

The president had given Mkhwebane until May 26 to give him reasons why she should not be suspended. In a statement on that day, she gave her reasons “under protest”, she said.

She said it was her “strong view” that Ramaphosa was precluded from playing any role in her suspension because he had a conflict of interest and also that his power of suspension would only be triggered after the start of impeachment proceedings, which she said, in law, had not started yet. 

Though a number of steps have been taken to investigate the possible impeachment of Mkhwebane, she had argued in court that, in law, the “proceedings” had not yet begun. 

On Wednesday the public protector confirmed that her office was investigating a complaint against Ramaphosa related to his “alleged conduct in respect of the allegation of criminal activities at one of his properties”. The complaint was made by ATM’s MP Vuyo Zungula.

The statement from the office of the public protector said that she gets “a lot of unfair criticism” when it came to investigations under the Executive Code of Ethics, with “some media organisations and politicians often accusing the office of ‘targeting’ certain members of the executive and getting involved in party politics”.

But the public protector was the only institution empowered to enforce it, said the statement. And on receipt of a complaint under the code, the public protector must investigate it, said the statement.  

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