A widely expected move, Kholeka Gcaleka has been elected as the new head of South Africa’s Chapter 9 institution, the Public Protector. The decision sparked heated debates in the National Assembly due to concerns from opposition parties about her suitability for the role.
The African National Congress (ANC) secured her appointment with 244 votes, largely thanks to support from the Inkatha Freedom Party. The contentious session began with a speech by Democratic Alliance MP Glynnis Breytenbach, who argued that Gcaleka didn’t meet the constitutional requirements for the office. This led to her being asked to leave the chamber by Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, citing rule 88, which prevents members from questioning the competence of public office holders.
In response, Breytenbach led the official opposition in a walkout. The Democratic Alliance’s chief whip, Siviwe Gwarube, argued that the Speaker’s interpretation and application of Rule 88 hindered a meaningful discussion about Gcaleka’s suitability for the role.
Further objections came from the Economic Freedom Fighters, with their newest MP, Mzwanele Manyi, accusing Gcaleka of not thoroughly investigating President Cyril Ramaphosa’s actions in her report on the Phala Phala controversy.
Gcaleka took over an investigation initiated by the African Transformation Movement when her predecessor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, was suspended by Ramaphosa pending an impeachment process. The African Transformation Movement, closely affiliated with Manyi, challenged Gcaleka’s report on the Phala Phala saga, claiming she failed to interview key witnesses and obtain the president’s tax records.
The African Christian Democratic Party also strongly opposed Gcaleka’s appointment, citing concerns about her fitness for the role and expressing regret over supporting the ANC’s nomination of Mkhwebane.
The ANC rallied its members to ensure Gcaleka’s appointment, although some long-standing members privately had reservations. Some observers noted that Gcaleka’s ability to navigate state capture and factionalism within the ANC may indicate pragmatic qualities.
The Democratic Alliance’s objection to Gcaleka was related to her previous roles in the National Prosecuting Authority and her support for former National Director of Public Prosecutions Menzi Simelane, as well as her advisory role to former ministers like Malusi Gigaba.
At just over 40, Gcaleka becomes the country’s fifth and youngest-ever public protector. Her youth was seen as a positive quality by some ANC MPs, who viewed it as a nod to the need for fresh, young leadership in the country.