HomeEditorial CommentPublic protector or public enemy

Public protector or public enemy

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THIS week it was advocate Thuli Madonsela, the public protector of South Africa’s turn to be thrust into the limelight following the release of the much vaunted Nkandla Report aptly entitled Secure in Comfort.

Since the report release on March 19, our attention has been momentarily diverted from the Oscar Pistorious trial. Who and what is the public protector you may ask?

The role of public protector was instituted within the South African Constitution for the purposes of investigating allegations of abuse of power, improper or unlawful enrichment, maladministration, fraud and corruption in public agencies and institutions. The office of the public protector is supposed to operate independently without political interference and should not demonstrate affiliation to any political party.

However it should be noted that the public protector is appointed by the President backed by parliamentary recommendations. The role of public protector is indeed a tough one and it’s highly likely that during your tenure in this seat you will step on feet whilst trying to get your job done. Advocate Thuli Madonsela occupies the unenviable position of public protector.

She is a lawyer by profession and holds the title of advocate. Her career began in the 80s as a teacher and later she transitioned into the legal field. She was one of the eleven technical experts who assisted the Constitutional Assembly in drafting the constitution in 1994. In 2012 she was awarded the Role of South Africa’s Most Influential Woman.

When Thuli is not playing Big Brother she is a mother to two children and loves to entertain in her home, her speciality being prawn curry.

I first encountered this soft spoken woman in Durban in 2012 at the South African Property Owners Convention where she was one of the headline speakers where she outlined the role of being a public protector and how she had managed to snuff out irregularities in the public sector like over inflated lease agreements.

It was her recommendations that led to the dismissal of Police Commissioner Bheki Cele in the role he played in the procurement of office accommodation for the South African Police where in connivance with Roux Shabangu, leases for buildings had a combined value of R1,7billion which was way above the market value.

This was the first of many burning issues that Thuli confronted since she assumed the hot seat of public protector in 2009. Since then Thuli has gone on to undoubtedly ruffle more feathers of the likes of Independent Electoral Commission Pansy Tlakula and SABC chief executive officer, Hlaudi Motseoeneng.

She now faces a law suit from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries minister Ms Tina Joemat-Pietterson up in arms over a damning report issued by the public protector accusing her ministry of unfruitful and wasteful expenditure.

However, her biggest and probably most challenging assignment to date has to be the Nkandla Report. Since its release some have been baying for her blood as she becomes public enemy number one.

The 447 page report documents the gory details of Nkandlagate which has intermittently hogged the headlines since the story first broke out in 2009 about the alleged security upgrades to the first citizen’s home. However, these were later found to include non-security upgrades that included a cattle kraal, clinic, chicken run, swimming pool, amphitheatre and visitors’ centre.

These are some of the items that the president is said to have unduly benefited from and has been asked to foot the bill at his own expense. However, the ramifications have been severe with some calling for the resignation of first citizen as well as Thuli Madonsela herself.

However Thuli is doggedly determined to finish her tenure as public protector which ends in 2015. As much as there are many who would like to see her step down there are plenty more who are standing in the sidelines applauding her sterling work as the upholder of ethics and integrity.

It takes courage and veracity to be able to assume a position such as this one and conduct your work without prejudice. She has shown resilience and strength of character.

And sometimes when you uphold the truth you earn great enmity. It is always easy to shoot the messenger than uphold the message. I certainly wish to see more offices of the public protector as it certainly serves to protect the basic tenets of a healthy democracy which encompass accountability and transparency.

I will end with an apt quote from the US Supreme Court Justice as it appears in the report: “If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself.

 Sue Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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