South Africa committee recommends ex-diplomat to head graft watchdog

August 30, 2016 9:28 AM EDT

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela speaks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa May 10,2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African parliament committee on Tuesday adopted a report recommending lawyer Busisiwe Mkhwebane to replace outgoing Thuli Madonsela as Public Protector, a powerful watchdog position that has subjected President Jacob Zuma to unwelcome scrutiny.

The committee's recommendation will go to a vote in parliament on Sept. 7 that requires 60 percent approval, the office of the Chief Whip of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said in a statement. It will then be sent to Zuma for assent.

Mkhwebane is a high-level civil servant and former diplomat, positions typically held by those with solid ANC connections.

Corruption Watch, a local NGO that focuses on graft issues, applauded the committee's recommendation, saying it was satisfied "that the final candidate got the job on merit and not for any other reason".

Among Mkhwebane's past achievements, Corruption Watch noted she had set up a Public Protector's office for the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

Madonsela, who steps down in October when her seven-year term expires, has become a household name in South Africa. Her probes have cast Zuma and other powerful figures in an unflattering light, contributing to the ANC's poor showing in local elections in early August.

In 2014, Madonsela found Zuma had included in a state-funded $16 million "security upgrade" to his rural Nkandla home such items as a swimming pool and amphitheatre.

She said Zuma should pay back a portion of the cost of those items. In March, South Africa's highest court said Zuma had broken the law by ignoring Madonsela's order.

The Public Protector has a constitutional mandate to probe misconduct in state affairs. Madonsela's replacement may inherit current probes, including one into whether Zuma allowed a business family, the Guptas, to decide on cabinet appointments.

Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations. The Guptas announced on Saturday they would sell all their stakes in South African businesses.

(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; editing by Andrew Roche)

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