#BHM Professor Thuli Madonsela: The Social Justice Aficionado
#BHM Professor Thuli Madonsela: The Social Justice Aficionado
Former public protector and Law Trust Chair, Professor Thuli Madonsela is a life-long champion of social justice advocacy and is most famous for pushing back against corruption and releasing the State of Capture report during her tenure.
The report which led to the Zondo Commission of Enquiry, released findings from an investigation into alleged unethical conduct by the former South African President Jacob Zuma and other leaders, relating to alleged improper relationships and involvement with the wealthy Gupta family, who were awarded state contracts.
Her other famous reports spoke truth to power, but more impressive, is that the Public Protector’s office resolved 130,000 cases in Prof Madonsela’s seven-year term which ran from 2009 to 2016, mostly from poor citizens who needed justice.
It’s 2018, my family and I are watching a documentary we just happened to come across, on one of the four channels available. Whispering Truth to Power by Shameela Seedat, a holistic look at what it took for the Advocate of the High Court, Thuli Madonsela to head the Public Protector office with a firm hand but a gentle heart, integrity, and genuine concern for South African citizens.
The consequences of this culture has resulted in the loss of trillions of Rands. According to Unite 4 Mzansi’s state capture 101 reports, R1.5 trillion was lost within six years, the study looked at the years 2014 to 2019. Other reports that look at different periods also point to exorbitant amounts that were meant for the development and the upkeep of the country being squandered.
Most countries around the world have a national ombudsman, but the head is rarely as popular as Madonsela became, because the body is not meant to be unearthing big scandals daily as is the case in South Africa. The country is famed worldwide for setting standards, we have the best constitution and bill of rights which prof Madonsela helped draft but we fail at implementing and meeting the standard – that is when it becomes malpractice.
In her current position as Law Trust Chair in Social Justice and Law Professor at the University of Stellenbosch, she conducts and coordinates social justice research, and she teaches constitutional and administrative law. She is also the founder of the Thuma Foundation, an independent democracy leadership, and literacy social enterprise.
I had never been more proud to be a Black Woman in South Africa, her victories in fighting against malpractice and corruption seemed personal to me because I was an unemployed graduate from a previously disadvantaged community, directly affected by the deeply entrenched culture of corruption in the country.
“Maladministration hurts sometimes more than crime, that feeling of injustice, that feeling of being treated unfairly, walks with you and is wrapped around you all the time…if you look at what’s happening in South Africa and the developing world, part of the problem is that the state is used as an instrument of accumulation…Where have the resources for social justice gone to? if you look at what we had from 1994 to redistribute, to advance our lives, where has that money gone to?”, Madonsela queried in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone.
Her work has earned her numerous accolades such as TIME100’s most influential people in the world, in 2014 and Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2016, the most recent is the highest French honor, the Knight of the Legion of Honour in February 2021. Despite the multiple prizes, and 5 honorary doctorates Madonsela is still absolute and consistent in her pursuit of creating a fair and just world.
Earnestness, consistency, and acting with intention are some of the qualities we are missing in government leadership right now
“I joined Stellenbosch University nearly four years ago with a clear mandate — my task was to develop a globally respected social justice research and training hub. My team and I have developed and released papers, arranged several events, conferences, and deliberations to unpack the various aspects of social justice. These events have ranged in size and scope, from large conferences to smaller lunchtime Social Justice Cafés. The golden thread running through it all has been the working definition underpinning the research of the Chair, namely that social justice is about the equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms regardless of human diversity reflected in the fair, just and equitable distribution of all opportunities, resources, benefits, privileges and, burdens in a society or group and between societies”, Prof Madonsela penned in an article on the Daily Maverick about the significance of social justice advocacy.
Prof Madonsela (60) never works alone but she manages as a leader to create a culture of integrity and purpose in each team she works with. In all the documentaries, media interviews and webinar dialogues I’ve come across of, the one thing that always amazes me is her sincerity. Despite death threats and smear campaigns she speaks up and acts in a way, one can believe in. Earnestness, consistency, and acting with intention are some of the qualities we are missing in government leadership right now. South Africa is in election season and once again I was watching the television with my family when coverage of the different party leaders campaigning came on and my mother commented on how she just couldn’t believe in any of the party leaders that came up, they seem out of touch as if they are just going through the motions and have little care for the whole caricature display.
“It is only with the support and collaboration of government, civil society, big business, academia, and every ordinary South African and global citizen, that we will be able to make the ideal of social justice a lived reality for everyone in South Africa”
It is not just in words where leaders in public services are failing to inspire confidence even through actions, the latest example of this is the R15 million stadium built by the Enoch Mgijima municipality in the Eastern Cape province that recently caused an uproar on South African social media platforms after the municipality posted the launch of the establishment on Facebook on 5 October. The “state-of-the-art track and field” looks like an open field with two rows of welded steel bar and plastic chairs and a small fitting room that doubles as restrooms. People questioned the price for the subpar-looking field with barely any grass and faint lines that are supposed to indicate the athletic tracks. The Hawks launched an investigation after a formal complaint was lodged.
The Eastern Cape is one of the poorest and least developed provinces in the country while South Africa is the world’s most unequal country in the world. Despite these dismal facts, Prof Madonsela is positive that change is possible. She believes South Africa can rid itself of corruption and put the well-being of people first. “It is only with the support and collaboration of government, civil society, big business, academia, and every ordinary South African and global citizen, that we will be able to make the ideal of social justice a lived reality for everyone in South Africa. We owe this to all of us for peace and sustainable development”, says Madonsela.
Her current efforts include a summit that invites researchers and other stakeholders to review policy effectiveness in addressing the established challenges. The 2nd Annual International Social Justice Conference and 3rd Annual Social Justice Summit convened on October 12/13.
“We will win. I also understand the root cause of corruption. Part of it is that we inherited a system that was already corrupt and we needed to detoxify it. In other words, we missed an opportunity to reset in 1994…Let us be under no illusion, it is a challenging climb we have ahead of us, but it is one worthy of our efforts”, said Madonsela.
Written By: Naledi Sikhakhane is a freelance journalist and social justice advocate who has written for publications such as New Frame, Dispatch Live and TimesLive. Follow her on Twitter Instagram and learn more about her work here.
Header Image: Professor Thuli Madonsela. Credit: World Justice Project