By Ruth Hopkins
South Africa experienced a week of turbulent political shenanigans when Zuma fired two ministers and suspended the police chief last week. All three stand accused of corruption.
While it rained accolades for Zuma’s firm approach, one of South Africa’s most influential women should have been commended for the political reshuffle. Thuli Madonsela is the ‘Public Protector’, an office that is known in other countries as an ombudsman. She has the power to investigate corruption in the public administration, to publish reports about it and to recommend action to be taken.
Madonsela revealed that Sicelo Shiceka, Minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, squandered approximately R600,000 from the state coffers on trips to Switzerland to visit his girlfriend who is in jail for drug trafficking.
Then Madonsela published a report in which she uncovered that Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, Minister of public works, and Bheki Cele, the police chief, were embroiled in a shady lease of an office building for the police. Madonsela advised Zuma that he should take action. Last week the curtains fell for the three accused.
Madonsela is navigating a political mine field. The police were not pleased at all with her investigations and they struck back in July, claiming Madonsela herself had defrauded the state by not declaring that she ran a firm that had been employed by the governmental department she was working for at the time. They raided her office and confiscated computers. Rumours surfaced that Madonsela would be arrested. However, she remained calm and stated that the allegations were unfounded. The ‘case’ against her fizzled out.
NGO Afriforum however, asked the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders that protection should be provided for Madonsela, because of the intimidation tactics of the police. A columnist wrote she feared the public protector would be ‘knee capped’. Madonsela is unperturbed. She stated in a radio interview that she is not afraid and will continue carrying out her constitutional task.
With the dismissals of last week, Madonsela’s reputation has been reinforced. KwaZulu-Natal legislature speaker Peggy Nkonyeni, who was recently accused by the opposition of corruption, invited the public protector in advance to come and investigate her case.
In the midst of prolific corruption in the public administration, Madonsela has grown into a conscience of the nation. One who can’t be messed around.