Who is Thuli Madonsela?
Bravery in the Face of Corruption
- the suspension and removal of national police chief Bheki Cele for corrupt administration of taxpayer money;
- exposure of the Gupta family’s improper influence over the appointment of ministers; and
- discovery of an R206million (over $15 million USD) abuse of public funds to conduct unapproved upgrades at the private homestead of President Jacob Zuma.
Her findings regarding President Zuma’s excesses were dismissed by the corrupt government that allowed them, but she did not give up even when the courts placed a gag order on her painstakingly researched investigations. Madonsela faced both death threats and personal attacks while she fearlessly fought to expose the corruption for all to see. To make matters more difficult, Cele was appointed to parliament despite his removal as national police chief for corruption—a position which he subsequently abused to prevent the release of Madonsela’s report on the president’s misdeeds.
Why is She Considered a ‘Champion of the People’?
Just weeks after she left her non-renewable post as Public Protector, another court ordered her report finally released to the people. In early November of 2016, the report, now dubbed “State of Capture,” provided proof for all that President Zuma abused public funds to pay for those improvements on his estate.
When speaking of the final victory she said “There’s somethings to be celebrated, there’s also things that I think could have been done differently.” Of the points to celebrate, she said, “We have a Constitution that anticipates that at times the people we place in public power, benevolent or not, may have propensities for human failings.” And among the failures? Madonsela wishes it had not taken so long to finally get the truth to the people. As a result of Madonsela’s persistance, Zuma is being forced to pay back the misappropriated funds—funds that were taken from his citizens who are among the poorest populations in the world.
A Legacy of Faith in Constitutional Rule
Despite her detractors’ allegations that she is willing to demean the South African state’s reputation for personal attention, Madonsela’s love of her nation and its people comes through in both her actions and in her advocacy. As peaceful citizen protests become riots in the streets, Madonsela pleads for peace, reminding the people that the Constitutional process does indeed work. She shows proof of this in the reparations being repaid by corrupt officials to a people who desperately need these funds for healthcare and human services. Her perseverance has indeed paid off for the people and she has proven that courage can still carve a path for positive change.
Madonsela’s advocacy for her nation has led to many honors, including the Glamour Women of Courage award in 2014 and her place as one of South Africa’s Most Influential Women in 2012. Now she is about to become the fifth recipient of the Forbes Africa Person of the Year Award, an honor which she has truly earned. There are many who have suggested a campaign for Madonsela to become the next president of South Africa in 2019. She flatly and firmly dashed their hopes in January of 2017 when she said, “I am neither qualified to be president, nor interested in that job.”
Madonsela is now on a fellowship at Harvard University, hoping that she can establish a social justice program at Stellenbosch University in 2018.