Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was lauded in 2014 for her work in ‘constitutional reform, land reform and the struggle for the protection of human rights and equality’ when she was named one of TIME Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People‘. ‘[Her] ability to speak truth to power and to address corruption in high places [has] been outstanding.’, they said of their decision.
‘Ubuntu says I am because you are: our future can only be better if we work together and help improve each other’s lives.’
At the time the South African Constitutional Court had ruled in Madonsela’s favour, in a case against President Jacob Zuma. The Court reaffirmed the power of the Public Protector’s office by demanding that Zuma pay back taxpayers money for his exorbitant Nkandla homestead. Madonsela won many enemies. But she also gained respect as well as countless admirers.
‘It’s vital that every girl determines, as early as possible, who she is and what her contribution to humanity will be.’
Madonsela displayed ‘extraordinary courage and patriotism’ . She created a standard that following public protectors of South Africa would do well to try to uphold. She has come to embody the fight against corruption, and in doing so served as a beacon of patriotic pride.
‘If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that wrong things are not done by bad people.’
Yet she does not count that case as her landmark. Madonsela told Mandy Wiener in an article for Marie Claire magazine that her greatest cases were those she fought for the average South African. She mentions a case where an elderly man was owed money for a decade from a municipality. Thuli takes great pleasure in ‘mediating the power imbalances’ of justice.
‘At times we to have to stand alone with only hope as our companion.If you stand for the truth and do so long enough hope does eventually pay.’
‘The millennials.. want a world they can call theirs, where there is social justice, things are run properly and people are able to prosper.’
At the very basis of her career, what sets her apart is not only courage and an unwavering cool head, nor her humility, it is that Thuli is driven by humanity and a strong sense for what is wrong and right. Even when that means hit orders on her.
Madonsela’s last investigation with a State Capture report, which implicates Pres. Jacob Zuma, former 4 day finance minister Des Van Rooyen and the Guptas, has been put on hold. The former two have placed interdicts on the report, to prevent it’s release. The Guptas lawyers have also threatened her with legal action. Madonsela is not phased by this, controversially handing the responsibility of the report over to new Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
‘It is always possible to do better.’
It seemed only fitting that on her last day in office that we honoured Madonsela for being an example not only as a public servant but as a woman, as a human being and an inspiration that gives hope to people across race, gender and class:
‘..listen well [to] hear what is not said.’
‘Just because we deal with underhanded people, doesn’t mean we too must be underhanded.’ – Last press conference, 14 October 2016
‘[Forgiveness is] not for the wrongdoers but to liberate yourself from their emotional prison.’
Madonsela is well known for being reachable and interacting with her followers on her Twitter account. One example is when a follower Tweeted that they’d love to meet her, but would only be able to do it when they became a ‘somebody’. Madonsela replied:
‘You are somebody right now. Never let anyone make you believe you are somebody when you have a title.’
Her son put it best, ‘‘I may have some bias but I have never read of a person with her blend of integrity and bravery. She has weathered biblical storms with grace, because she’s always known that the greatest defence is truth.’
Thank you, Thuli Madonsela, for your service to the South African public.
Feature image: Michael Hoeweler for TIME. Edited by Zoya Pon