BBC doccie on Madonsela to air

2012-07-25 12:40

“She’s not a superwoman, she’s just an ordinary person doing her job,” is the blunt assessment of one anti-corruption campaigner describing Thuli Madonsela.

David Lewis, the CEO of the newly-launched campaign group Corruption Watch has described her as “South Africa’s, most important bulwark against corruption”.

Although her title “public protector” may sound mundane, Madonsela has captured the imagination of South Africans and the media for her no-nonsense style and her ability to deliver.

Add to that her ANC credentials as a former lawyer in the trade union movement, and she’s earned the respect of the ruling party and opposition alike.

The BBC documentary team has had exclusive access to Madonsela over the past few months, trailing her as she oversees some 14 000 investigations.

Our own probes have unearthed inflated water tenders in North West province, newly built schools without any furniture in the Eastern Cape and appalling sewage conditions in Braamfisherville, Soweto.

All of which are now being investigated by Mrs Madonsela’s team.

“I don’t remember it being this bad,” Madonsela confided after we took her to Soweto, to see for herself the squalour of overflowing drains which have been left unattended for years.

Wading through raw sewage in a smart set of high heels, wincing at the unidentified waste swirling at her feet, Madonsela described how she grew up in Soweto, the proud heart of the struggle against white minority rule.

“Things were different then.”

She accepts Justice Minister Jeff Radebe’s argument that “300 years of colonial rule and 40 years of apartheid” cannot be corrected overnight, and the seeds of corruption were sewn pre-94, but says that if “visible action is taken” against corrupt officials now, then it sends the message to people that “if you are thinking about it – then don’t.”

In South Africa the task of rooting out corruption is distributed among several agencies.

“It spreads the risk” is the assessment of Willie Hofmeyr, deputy director of National Prosecutions who says though a “great deal is being done now” he is “disappointed at the slow rate of progress”.

The implication is that if one investigating agency gets cornered another can still pursue a case.

South Africa has shown with a free press and independent courts that it still has a chance to win the war on graft and in many ways Madonsela embodies that hope.

The Public Protector has risen from the bureaucratic fog to become a breath of fresh air for a South African public clamouring for more accountability from their public servants and leaders.

She’s called for constructive dialogue rather than service delivery riots and has been promised by ministers that despite past attempts to muddy her name, she will be allowed to do her job, whatever her investigations unearth.

With the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung scheduled for the end of the year, the stakes have grown higher.

Madonsela knows that corruption allegations can be used to wound political enemies.

In the documentary, Madonsela’s daughter, Wenzile, asks over the breakfast table: “How does it feel to be South Africa’s biggest tell-tale?”

She laughs and shurgs it off, with a joke but with four more years in the job she knows that there are still many noses she could put out of joint.

» Our World: Corruption Crusader by BBC’s Southern Africa correspondent Karen Allen will be broadcast on BBC World News on 28 and 29 July at 13:30 and 19:30 respectively

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