In many ways, the appointment of Advocate Thulisile Madonsela to the position of responsibility made her to accept it with a trembling heart. The joys were alluring, the challenges so great. But, once she started snooping into the offices and streets, she got exposed to all sorts of challenges including from the appointing authorities.
As South Africa’s Public Prosecutor who performs diligently, on many times, the outgoing Madonsela found herself and her entire office staff being subjects of abuse that included acts of violence, death threats, intimidation and being held hostage. However, that never distraught her, instead the spiritual Madonsela took solace in her belief that in whatever responsibility that we are given, we all can go forward in victory if together we hold fast to the Lord, trusting Him to lead us and give us the courage and strength we need.
Madonsela was in the country last week Friday at the invitation of the Law Society of Botswana (LSB) as a guest of honour at a dinner whose aim was to create a platform for interaction between legal practitioners and their stakeholders. It goes without saying that her performance in the public office has earned her international recognition and accolades, the latest being the honorary membership of the Law Society of Botswana given in recognition of her unwavering and courageous defence of the strong and independent public institutions.
LSB chairman, Lawrence Lecha says his Society considers strong independent public institutions as one of the most important pillars of a viable and vibrant constitutional democracy. In this regard and as part of its mandate, the Society has consistently engaged its stakeholders on the need for strong public institutions and the centrality of independence to achieving such objective. “Our position in this area as it relates to the Judiciary is unwavering and indeed well chronicled. Some have unfortunately sought to find mischief in the interest of the Law Society in matters such as the above. This is furthest from the truth,” said Lecha last week during the dinner hosted under the theme: the case for strong and independent public institution.
Whilst the mandate of the Society as set out in the Act is primarily to ensure and enhance professional standards for the benefit of the public and the profession itself, the Society is also enjoined to ensure and enhance the supremacy of the Rule of Law and Democracy. In this regard the Society, as with all others around the world, must be in the forefront of advocating for legal reform, justice, the rule of law, good governance, democracy and access to justice. Lecha said it is for the above reason that the Law Society believes that it couldn’t have found better company than the Public Protector as her belief in the above principles have been recorded and well publicised. “It is our further belief that the presence and words of wisdom from such a distinguished Public Protector will find fertile ground in most as they discharge responsibilities similar to hers.”
Meanhwile, Madonsela says that although she is concerned about the death threats against her, equally she does not easily get intimidated because she is a spiritual person who believes we all ought to die one day. She believes that no one can leave a minute longer or die a minute later than the time decided by the Creator. The gentle giant human rights lawyer and Equality Expert whose most powerful tool is her soft voice and calmness irrespective of the situation, fielded questions with ease and answered sincerely.She Madonsela congratulated Botswana for her golden jubilee celebration saying that the celebrations are for the entire continent because those countries that were first to gain independence gave “us hope and example that you can get independence, but not only get independent, but you can also govern properly.”
“We are grateful that this opportunity presented for a specific purpose, but has also allowed us to meet with our colleague the ombudsman of Botswana and have benchmarking session,” she said. Madonsela advocates for strong and independent institutions because they are the foundation of a strong democracy. “Often you get people who say we do not need strong democracies, but we need strong men and I disagree with that talk because while men come and go institutions are there to stay.”According to her, institutions are more true to the essence of democracy which is the government of the people by the people. When people govern it means they are involved in determining the future of a group, whether country or community. It means people responsible in determining who they will entrust with their collective power. It also means those who are entrusted with power and resources will be accountable to the majority and lastly they will handle that power and resources with care because it does not belong to them; it belongs to the majority.
“You have to have institutions that ensure accountability and continuous involvement of the people,” she said, adding that in many of the modern states those institutions are entrenched in the constitution. In South Africa for instance the key institutions are entrenched in Chapter 9 of the constitution which specifically refers to them as institutions to support and strengthen constitutional democracy.
“So you need them strong so that they can play a role in supporting and strengthening constitutional democracy,” she said. Not an ANC member Madonsela denied being a member of the African National Congress (ANC). “I think on the internet it says that. It’s not true I am not a card carrying member of the ANC, but at the time I was appointed I was an ANC supporter because I have been a card carrying member until 2007.” Having been part of the ANC, she says, and being a colleague to people who are in governance gave her leverage because people knew that these things that “I am saying, I am not saying them because I am now Public Protector, I have always believed in good governance and transparency. I have been party to those who drafted the constitution.”
She states that the ANC for example, did not want to replace the apartheid government not because the people were white, it was because it claimed that it had higher morals to govern the people properly and govern by the people’s constitution. “So that allowed me to always go back to Nelson Mandela and say, we said we are better than them not because we have a different colour, but because we will govern in accordance with the universal rights of the constitution and we are not for one person, we are for one,” said Modonsela.
She said a related challenge as Public Protector is that “you make the decision that shows you are independent, and then ANC colleagues will ask, are you now hitting hard at us to show that you are independent. I still think that when you have been colleagues it’s more of a facilitator rather than an impediment, but you have a choice though and say because these people were colleagues, I am going to decide in their favour, trust is they will be the first to despise you.” She describes her relationship with the ANC as marvellous. “In South Africa, the average person is excited to see me at the mall and rural areas even ANC supporters, in fact if you look at my twitter account, some endorse ANC logo on them. So the average person in the ANC honestly wants to do the right thing, they want a South Africa for all where public resources and power are used to advance the interest of the national democratic revolution, they are happy when I draw back the money that had gone anywhere else other than advancing everyone’s plight.”
She also notes that the average leader in the ANC applauds her work. “When I was a member of the ANC, I was in the Gauteng branch, and I have never met a single leader who is unhappy with me. The Gauteng ANC branch has endorsed my work openly in the last seven years, not secretly because there are people who support me secretly. When there was this debate about whether the findings of the Public Protector are binding or not, and whether government should implement, David Makhura issued a statement -and that was at the height of Nkandla debate- to say they will implement everything and that helped us. At national level, a lot of them gave me a pat on the back.”
On death threats
She confirmed that over the years she has been concerned about the threats and also about the implications for her children. “As I said after I issued the first reports I invited sour grapes. Life is in the hands of God. We all ought to die, and it’s a question of when I told myself that if I had to die I will die, but also I am a very spiritual person and I do believe that I cannot stay a minute longer than my Creator wants me to stay, and I also cannot leave a minute earlier.”
One of her many tweets reads, “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.”