A shining beacon Ranjeni Munusamy

2016-05-19 06:00

IN five months, Thuli Madonsela’s term as public protector comes to an end and someone new will take up the position.

It is rare for someone in the public service to perform his or her duties so exceptionally well as to earn our pride.

The Office of the Public Protector has become a shining beacon in terms of its integrity and commitment to guarding ordinary South Africans against abuse and maladministration in the government.

Madonsela has earned public respect and confidence in the way she has conducted her investigations and refused to succumb to pressure when probing the political elite.

But the more she distinguished herself as a fearless fighter against corruption, the more she was derided by the ANC. She has had to withstand attacks from several people in the party, including the secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, and his deputy Jessie Duarte, members of Parliament and the ANC women’s and youth leagues.

She was accused of being a spy and using her investigations to be a media star.

The most recent public attack on Madonsela came from the president of the ANC Women’s League, Bathabile Dlamini, who accused her of failing to serve the public.

She claimed that Madonsela has politicised her work.

“We are worried about the status of the public protector. The public protector’s role is to protect the people, more particularly the poor. And if now everything about the PP is going to be tested in court, what is going to happen to the poor?” Dlamini asked.

“I’m raising this because we work with women and most of the time they are the ones who are violated. And therefore if they have to go to various courts and prove that the report of the PP is correct or not, that means that that is no longer a PP.”

The Constitutional Court’s confirmation of the powers of the public protector, making her remedial action binding, seems to have drawn even more hostility towards that office.

“We must look for a real PP, not a politician,” Dlamini said.

This shows that there will be a concerted effort to ensure that the next public protector will not be someone who is as fiercely independent and courageous as Madonsela.

This week, it emerged that the hostility against Madonsela could be more sinister, with her receiving a tip-off that a Western Cape gang boss has been paid R740 000 to arrange three hitmen to kill her.

With Madonsela being so close to retirement as public protector, it seems bizarre that anyone would want her murdered now.

But the antagonism towards Madonsela is palpable, and she is blamed for the embarrassment caused to President Jacob Zuma and the ANC on the Nkandla matter.

According to Madonsela, the threat against her is not being treat with seriousness by the police and she is clearly concerned about her safety.

It is difficult to judge whether there is substance to the threat against her or whether this is another tactic to pressure Madonsela into submission. That can only be established if the police give her complaint proper attention.

Either way, it is not a matter the public should treat lightly. It is not only Madonsela’s life that could be under threat but the future integrity of her office.

This could be a tactic to intimidate her successor and the staff of the Public Protector’s Office to ensure that they are more compliant in future.

Whoever it is that will be chosen to step into Madonsela’s shoes will be under tremendous pressure not to tread on the toes of the politically powerful in the way she did.

The threat could also be a warning to anyone else in society who decides to stand up against abuses of the state. Madonsela’s departure in October should not result in the credibility of yet another institution being compromised.

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