South Africa’s Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, has become one of the most recognizable names in the country, if not the continent. She came into the spotlight and her role has been discussed and dissected after releasing a controversial report investigating the expensive “security upgrades” to President Jacob Zuma’s home. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about South Africa’s Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, and the critical role she plays in South Africa.
Sources: DailyMaverick.co.za, WhosWho.co.za, SAHistory.org.za, Apps.UFS.ac.za, MediaClubSouthAfrica.com, BehindTheScene.Blogspot.co.nz, BDLive.co.za
Madonsela’s family originated in Swaziland. She was born in Johannesburg in 1962, and her father worked as an informal trader, while her mother was a domestic worker and unofficial social worker in her community in Soweto. Madonsela attended school in Nhlangano, Swaziland, and later received her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Swaziland in 1987. Madonsela earned a law degree from the University of Witwatersrand in 1990.
Many have called for Madonsela to enter the political arena, as she has garnered many fans along with her detractors in her role as public protector. She even declined the position of ANC member of parliament in South Africa’s first post-apartheid parliament back in 1994. She has said she would have refused the attempted ANC nomination for National Assembly representative in January 2014. “Politics is important but it would not be my best contribution as a human being. Doing the technical work, advising and making decisions around fairness is something I believe I do better,” she said.
As a human rights lawyer and equality expert, Madonsela was in a prime position to help shape the new South Africa in the post-apartheid era. She was one of the 11 technical experts who helped the Constitutional Assembly draft the country’s final constitution in 1994 and 1995, and helped to present the final document at the ANC’s Gauteng Constitutional Conference in 1995.
Madonsela has helped draft several critical pieces of legislation in her field of equality and transparency, including the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, the Employment Equity Act, and the Local Government Transition Act. She is also a contributor for several other laws, such as the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, the Repeal of the Black Administration Act, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, and more.
Madonsela’s report on Zuma’s security upgrades, released to the public in March 2014, was met with much criticism and opposition from the ANC elite. She alleged that President Jacob Zuma benefited unduly from the millions of rand spent on security upgrades to his home. Members of the ANC ruling party attempted to undermine both Madonsela and her research, calling it a “political report.”
Many of Madonsela’s critics say some portions of her caseload should be handled by the courts. She frequently counters these arguments and reiterates her role as a resource for the average citizen. “We were created to be there for the average person,” she said of her office. “Going to court requires huge capital outlay. Members of the justice portfolio committee have expressed that some matters should ideally go to court first. This is a misunderstanding. Both the Constitution and the Public Protector Act state that once a court has spoken, the public protector cannot get involved.”
The South African public protector’s office has a staff of 300 people working across the country, but 100 of those are trainees and are often only there for short periods. It is estimated that the office covers the work of an estimated 1,200 state entities, and a single investigator may have a caseload of more than 400 files at any given time. This often results in delays for resolutions to be found.
Despite her integral role as an investigator of wrongdoing and corruption, Madonsela has expressed how difficult it is for her to expose people in their offenses. She said in an interview, “No normal person can celebrate the pain of other people. I’d like to believe I am not bitter and twisted…It saddens me to be the one who will come with the bad news that someone has not done things right.”
Beyond the public protector’s office, Madonsela serves as the chairwoman of the Centre for Reconciliation and Equality Studies, as well as a member of the South African Law Reform Commission.
Madonsela has been a longtime advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She is a member of the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA), as well as the Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA). In 2012, she won an award as one of South Africa’s Most Influential Women, and she was recently named to the TIME 100 Most Influential People in the world for 2014.