Prays Public for the Protector
After the Public Protector called for an end to hostilities with the ANC this week, City Press sat down with her to ask how she keeps up
Where do you draw your strength from? I have a spiritual dynamic and I believe that every human being is doing the best they can. I do get upset and irritated, and I just have to manage that. One difficult moment was the first tweet from the ruling party during the press conference [on Wednesday] and I thought we’ve done the attacking and how do we move forward. I always remember that everyone is doing their best and if they knew better, they’d do better.
But remember that the attacks have also come from a minority within the governing party.
Actually, everyone I meet, young and old, in high and low positions, support what I’m doing, and I’m talking about the governing party. If I go to Parliament I get support, if I meet Cabinet members I get support, if I go to mass meetings of the ANC they mob me like a rock star and it gives me a sense that we’re all just ordinary South Africans who just want a country that runs well and we hope everyone will do their best.
A lot of the people supporting me are public servants because the average public servant does the right thing. I was a public servant and I never came across a single corrupt person during our time in the department of justice [while chairing the SA Law Reform Commission].
All of us were happy to make ends meet from what we were getting from the system.
It’s also not true that politicians are corrupt. The majority of politicians are not corrupt, even the ones that drop the ball usually don’t drop it because of corruption. They just drop the ball because in the process of doing something, there wasn’t proper consultation around the rules that regulate the system.
The ones that are attacking us are doing so because of fear, but it’s fear of the unknown.
I am a South African and I want South Africa to continue to be seen as a great country because despite our mistakes, I really think we’re a great country and I am not just saying that for the cameras.
Tell us more about your spiritual dynamic...
I pray and I also have a very supportive church. The Hatfield Christian Church has also been very supportive. When things get tough, the church would occasionally call and ask to pray for me.
Other churches have invited themselves to our offices to come and pray with me.
Literally every day, people send me spiritual texts on emails, direct messages and on the Twitter account.
It’s not always religious, it’s not always verses from the Bible. Some send spiritual messages from other religions. I am Christian but I do embrace other spiritual dimensions.
The one message that struck me was one where the person said: ‘You are strong and you’ve been placed where you are for good reasons. You have power, use it compassionately, use it justly and remember to temper justice with mercy.’
That was from [Bahamas Faith Ministries founder] Myles Munroe the day before the press conference. It came at a difficult time when we were under heavy attack. That made me reflect.
Of course, I have an extremely supportive family: my children, my brothers and sisters. My friends and acquaintances are very supportive too. Also the team here at the Public Protector is great. I’m the head of the team, not the boss of the team.
Are you happy with the parliamentary processes going ahead in the Nkandla matter while you’re unhappy about President Jacob Zuma’s response to your report?
I don’t disagree with the president’s response. The president has not responded and he himself says so. I don’t disagree with the parliamentary process. For me, that’s a parallel process.
I see the parliamentary process as complementary and I would like to engage with Parliament if it feels my process is undermining its process because my understanding is that our democracy works because we have a complementary oversight framework. Different institutions reinforce each other.
With me having written to the president, it adds to that parliamentary process because finally they would have the president’s comments on my report.
But now they only have the president’s own initiative, which is a general statement on his observations on what happened there, but he’s not saying whether he agrees or disagrees with me.
He is not saying what he is going to do to fix his branch of government. My understanding of the vision behind the Executive Members’ Ethics Act is that Parliament is not the head of the executive – the president is, so the expectation is that the president fixes his house and then just notifies Parliament on how he has fixed his house.
You have asked ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to explain his comments about you...
He says I run around the world bad-mouthing my country. I love my country. In African culture we say you don’t relieve yourself upstream. So if people see South Africa as a confused and dysfunctional democracy, I sink with South Africa, my children sink, my children’s children sink.
I spoke at the African Union’s 50th anniversary and you have to read what I said there about my country and how our democracy is built to last.
Ambassadors are always happy and they say my office is one of the offices they use to show that democracy is working.
The system is not used to rubbish the country, it’s used to show we have checks and balances, and if something goes wrong, there’s the Auditor-General, the Public Protector, the Special Investigating Unit, the media and the courts. We are a strong democracy.
Do you think there is deliberate ignorance of the Constitution when it comes to the Public Protector’s investigations?
You guys in the media kept pushing that the Executive Members’ Ethics Code change and you kept pushing to change the law itself so that a report about the president goes to someone else.
Right now if that had been complied with, we wouldn’t be having a problem with the president having to decide on a report about himself because it’s unfair on him and presents a conflict of interest.
The justice department just delayed the process, but it has sent us a draft.
The way forward would be to conclude that process. We follow up on remedial action because the last letter we wrote to the president about that was a few months ago when we asked where is that process before we released the [Nkandla] report.
We wanted to find out who are we going to then deal with and the president responded graciously that the process of reviewing [the Executive Members’ Ethics Act] was started by the department of justice, but somehow there was a delay and it’s not concluded yet.
What do you want to do when your term comes to an end in 2016? Have you been approached to work on any project when your term ends?
Well if you’re asking me if the DA has requested me to stand for them in 2019, no, that has not happened. I have been approached by various institutions to go into academia and teach. But I intend going into legal practice because I never really got into it. I also want to rest for a year and maybe start writing something – maybe that will include teaching as well.
But I will definitely not go into politics because I had a chance to be an MP in 1994 when I was asked by Cosatu to join Parliament with the likes of Susan Shabangu.
There have been many opportunities to go into politics, but each time I was nominated by my ANC branch in Pretoria, I always declined.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela at her offices in Pretoria
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