Former public protector launched the Thuli Madonsela Foundation to work with youth to "reimagine" democracy. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Former public protector launched the Thuli Madonsela Foundation to work with youth to "reimagine" democracy. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

SA‘s not sinking, it’s redefining itself, says Thuli

By Ryland Fisher Time of article published Jan 21, 2017

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Cape Town – Former public protector Thuli Madonsela says she loves the ANC, but she loves South Africa more.

In an interview this week, she spoke frankly about her relationship with President Jacob Zuma, “rogue elements” within the ruling party, her reasons for letting her ANC membership lapse, and her hopes for South Africa’s future.

Madonsela, who is an advocate, has been appointed an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University and launched the Thuli Madonsela Foundation this week. The foundation aims to work with young people to “reimagine democracy”.

“I believe that those young people who are engaging with civil society and government are going to drive change, because for me, democracy is not just about a particular party. Much as I love the governing party, I love South Africa more, ” Madonsela said.

The past few months, since the end of Madonsela’s seven-year term in October, have been “less intense” but also “hectic” because she accepted several speaking engagements, nationally and internationally.

“I visited seven countries in less than six weeks. I have also been wrapping up for Harvard and, without adequate administrative support, I’ve had to filter a lot of requests for speaking engagements.

“I am excited about the new chapter in my life but I do miss my old team, the Gogo Dlaminis, and the competent South Africans I came across who are committed to combating fraud, corruption and all sorts of improper forms of conduct of state affairs.”

Madonsela said she had enjoyed an excellent relationship with Zuma at the start of her tenure but this had deteriorated over time.

“In the beginning, as the public protector team, we knew that he, the Presidency and his cabinet had our back.

“The relationship does not appear anything but normal, but truth be told, it did deteriorate. Towards the end, President Zuma’s speeches stopped mentioning the public protector as part of the structures combating corruption in the country.

“When I was under attack, not once did the president say a word about the need to promote and protect state institutions or just compassionately say that you don’t do that to any human being. But when the new public protector was attacked, he was the first to say that the public protector should be supported.

“I believe that he didn’t think I needed any protection. There was a sense that maybe I had grown too powerful. Some of his supporters called me somebody with a God complex and ceased to see me as an ordinary human being with the same vulnerabilities as other human beings.

“I have forgiven President Zuma and others because I honestly think that, when people are afraid, they can’t be generous and compassionate. When people are afraid, they are like somebody who is drowning. When you are drowning, all that matters is to protect yourself by pulling somebody down, and letting them drown instead.

“What happened with President Zuma is that, after Nkandla, he felt that he was drowning politically. He said so much during some of my conversations with him, his fear of being arrested, including now with state capture. Obviously, with the victim paradigm, his head right now is about protecting number one.”

Madonsela said that she never intended to target the president personally.

“He knows that I never went for him. I think it has just been about self-preservation because he knows exactly how these investigations started. He has said that, had it not been for the advice that he got and the figures that went with Nkandla, he would have dealt with things differently. I suspect the same thing is happening with the state capture investigation. Fear has taken over and rationality has fallen away.”

Madonsela said by the time she became public protector, she was no longer a member of the ANC but her appointment could have been perceived as “cadre deployment”.

“I never resigned from the ANC. For professional reasons, I did not renew my membership in 2007. I had nothing against the ANC. It was the organisation that opened my eyes to what I could do to end injustice.

“Of course, by the time I became public protector, I needed to be neutral. I was nominated by a non-partisan organisation called South African Women in Dialogue, but I was grateful that the ANC supported my candidacy and all the other parties gave me a unanimous vote.

“I would want to believe that the ANC saw it as cadre deployment because they had known me before the days of democracy. When the ANC formally came back to South Africa in the 1990s, I was part of the team that was meant to assist with knowledge and technical assistance with laying the foundations for the transition, constitutional research and the final drafting of the constitution.”

Madonsela said there might be a minority in the ANC who felt her appointment and subsequent appointment was a case of cadre deployment gone wrong, but most people felt otherwise.

“Those who feel like this, are the rogue elements within the ANC. As a child of the ANC, I look at people like Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Ma Gertrude Shope, and the entire group of ANC stalwarts, who are proud of me.

“But there are people who have supported me even within the younger generation. Mr (Gwede) Mantashe (ANC secretary-general) said the other day that ‘we agreed with you all along but we would not publicly say so, and you have saved us from ourselves many times’.

“Those who truly love the ANC, and who mean it when they say they want to restore the ANC of Oliver Tambo, will agree with me. But there are rogue elements within the ANC who are saying one thing about what the ANC should do, while they do the opposite, because all that matters to them is how to advance the wealth of their families, their friends and those who politically support them.”

Madonsela said she was not prepared to name those who she considered to be rogue elements within the ruling party.

“It is more generous to name those who do good. It often sounds mean-spirited if you name the rogue ones. For that reason, I will not name them. But the rogue elements know themselves and are known to the people of South Africa. They speak with a straight face about what the ANC should be doing, but they are saying to the people ‘do as I say but certainly not as I do’.”

Madonsela said she remained hopeful things would change for the better in South Africa.

“As long as humanity exists, we have to cling on the wings of hope. There will be change. If change does not come from the governing party, it will come from broader South Africa. Either way, we are headed for a better deal as South Africans.

“We are headed back to where we started in terms of the value system which said that we had to have a government that was better than apartheid, a government that did not explain away its misdemeanours by saying that apartheid did this.

“Whatever happens, the most important thing is that the dream that drove Pixley ka Seme, Yusuf Dadoo, Oliver Tambo, Helen Joseph and others must stay alive. That flame that they kindled must stay alive. If it is going to stay alive in the governing party, that would be great because I think it would please those who started this journey, but if it has to happen elsewhere, I think those who started this flame will forgive us.

“Though South Africa right now may look like it is sinking, it is not really sinking. It is redefining itself. I think the future is going to be rosy but it means that civil society should stop outsourcing democracy to politicians, lawyers and the courts and continue to get involved and hold the government accountable.

* View full interview on

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus

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