Thursday, December 15, 2016

A much-needed bright star

Stanley - Thursday

Last February, Michael wrote a blog about the then Public Protector in South Africa, Thuli Madonsela.  You can read the blog here.

Her term ended recently, so it's a good time to take another look at a bright star in the corrupt state of South Africa - a person who probably enjoys greater visibility and higher approval than anyone else in the land. If the system allowed it (that is a direct vote for President as in the USA, in contrast to the system in the UK and South Africa), she would run away with the vote.

Thuli Madonsela

Not only is she smart, but also is very tough, as Michael described.

To quote Marelise van der Merwe of the Daily Maverick:
Where shouting loudly can so easily form the dominant narrative, it’s refreshing and intriguing to watch Advocate Thuli Madonsela: that unwaveringly soft-spoken, even tone, which ended up thundering across South Africa and the rest of the globe. In the post-Mandela era, where disillusionment dominated, she became a new symbol of resistance for many.  
TIME magazine described her as displaying “extraordinary courage and patriotism” in her fight for “Constitutional reform, land reform and the struggle for the protection of human rights and equality”.
I think what Madonsela accomplished as Public Protector started the country on the path, albeit rocky and slow, to addressing the excesses and corruption of many government officials.  For example, just last week, a provincial high court banned a senior manager of the South African Broadcasting Corporation from playing any role in the organisation and, furthermore, ordered him to pay all court costs out of his personal pocket.  For government officials and others, not having the government pay for their court battles, wlil certainly slow the flood of appeals to the judiciary.

One of the appealing characteristics of Advocate Madonsela is that she has her feet firmly on the ground.  Despite her popularity, she has remained true to herself.
She is also known for saying things that are very quotable.
"Be the kind of leader who does not need a title.”  
Her actions as Public Protector fitted that very well.
She gave up a scholarship to Harvard to help draft South Africa's excellent Constitution and has always had in the forefront of her thinking the rights of every South African.  In some ways this is not surprising given her background as a civil rights lawyer and activist.
Throughout her tenure, she has faced enormous pressure and opposition from those in government who feared that they were in her sights. Her reaction?
At times we 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.”
After she released the Nkandla report (see Michael's blog) in which she found that the President of the country had violated the Constitution and was personally responsible for paying back monies illegally used to enhance his private residence, she faced increased opposition and intimidation from the powerful in politics.  Her response:
"Just as the power of water often lies in the ability to bend around obstacles, sometimes the most powerful step you can take is a step back.”
So she let the report work it's way through the system, all the way to the Constitutional Court, which not only confirmed her findings, but also wrote into law that findings of the Public Protector were binding, not just advisory.
I have taken a number of quotes from Marelise van der Merwe's article in the Daily Maverick and have included them below.
"Sometimes we feel like and regret being oddballs, yet it is our uniqueness that makes each of us fit for our individual purpose in life."
"When stuck in a hole, the victim asks, “who can we blame for existence of the hole or getting us in it” while the leader asks how do we get out."
"If you consciously choose to be a positive influence in the world, you will always find opportunities to make a difference."
"It’s not the fear of failure that stops us from acting to achieve our goals, but the fear of disapproval, as by not acting we choose failure."
"We step out in hope that a better world is possible because of our love for peace and faith in humanity’s capacity to make better choices."
The next one should be branded on the forehead of every aspirant politician: 
"We need to recognise and enhance the culture of being a servant of citizens, and not a servant of government, as a prerequisite of the public service delivery programmes."
Some more quotable quotes:
"Through life I have learned that the most important critic whose judgement of my actions matters is my conscience."
"It seems that the firmness with which I make decisions was not expected from a woman."
When questioning Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa:
"I am concerned, though, that President, you are the President of the Republic of South Africa and you are employee number one. Normally when we are dealing with people who are responsible for the State, we deal with them and the lawyers they come in where necessary, because it is you who is accountable, Sir. It is you who are employed by the State as its most important employee and then you employ the rest."

When Zuma said he needed to consult his lawyers about why he fired Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene:
"If we are starting with, for example, why did you remove Minister Nene, why do you need somebody to legally advise you? Because that is a decision you took yourself without legal advice. You took that decision, exercising your power as an Executive. Yes. No, but it is a decision you have already taken, so you don’t need to be advised why you took it."
Zapiro cartoon. The shower on Zuma's head comes from his statement that he prevented any possibility of AIDS by showering after sex.

Some more quotes: 
"Forgiveness does not mean you accept or ignore wrongdoing. It means tackling wrongdoing without hating the wrongdoer."
"I need to listen well so that I hear what is not said."
"As an African woman, I’ve learnt the importance of self-definition and living purposefully. It’s vital that every girl determines, as early as possible, who she is and what her contribution to humanity will be."
"I sleep like a baby. But I do worry about the costs of indifference and self-interest in the public sector. I have seen too much of the pain caused on ordinary people by indifference and selfishness."
"The best advice you will ever receive is from your own soul."
Finally, when she was advising her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, about her role:
"The job is about protecting the public from improper conduct [whatever] quarter it may come from. So stick to that job."
When you see public servants like Thuli Madonsela, you wish devoutly that there were more like her.

We, in South Africa, have a lot to thank her for.  We, in the world, have a lot to learn from her.


  1. Can you clone her please and can the Scottish government apply for a copy?
    With Thuli and Socks the pony, the light at the end of the tunnel might not be that of the on coming train! I can dream,

  2. If you think that the US allows a direct vote for President take another look at this year's election. Hillary won by over 2 million votes.

  3. Dina: I understand the US system. What I meant was that unlike the UK and SA, where the majority party's leader becomes the Prime Minister or President, in the US the voters have a direct say in who they want to be President. I do understand the Electoral College system as well as the fact that the vote for President is not always decided with a majority of votes. In 2016, Trump would definitely not been the choice of members of the Republican Party, especially its hierarchy.

  4. This quote: "Be the kind of leader who does not need a title.”

  5. What is she doing now?

    Her quotes remind me somewhat of a modern Benjamin Franklin.

    1. I believe she is taking up a chair of social justice at the University of Stellenbosch.