The Public Protector says her approach is to whisper truth to power – but you don’t want to mess with her.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday seemed more the disapproving parent than the political conspirator the ANC had described as she (metaphorically) shook her head about the “hysterical” reaction to her most recent letter on Nkandla to President Jacob Zuma.
In a long press conference just two days after the ANC accused her of all manner of breaches, Madonsela scrupulously avoided naming politicians, or even parties, while quoting from historical ANC documents, Nelson Mandela, the African Union Charter and the National Development Plan – all to make a simple plea for “the name-calling” to stop, and for everyone involved to honour and act in terms of the Constitution, which she argued is sufficiently clear.
“Why are we stumbling?” asked Madonsela. “We’re dealing with the challenge of transforming the state and growing into the notion of supervised exercise of public power, characterised by various checks and balances … We must accept that many among us are still grappling with the meaning of the supremacy of the Constitution.
“The good thing is that we are not walking through a forest without a trail. We have been travelling the constitutional democracy road for 20 years.”
Madonsela implied that the apparent battle between herself and the ANC would have little to no influence on her work, or her interaction with Zuma’s office.
“He has never closed his door on my office,” Madonsela said. “Will I tell him what to do? Will I advise him? I could advise the president, as I did in my previous investigation, but I can’t tell you what I would say to the president or any other person.”
In her view, the whole point of being an ombud is “to whisper truth to power”.
In line with that philosophy, she said she would not institute contempt proceedings against ANC leaders, or take Zuma to court because he has not responded to her Nkandla report, or do anything other than meet people, including Zuma, and talk.
“The idea is to avoid going to court as much as possible … I believe in dialogue,” she said.
Madonsela also said she would not, as demanded by the ANC, name the senior ANC leader she had said was responsible for leaking her letter to Zuma, although she did have very tough words for the media, especially City Press and the Sunday Times, which first published on the letter.
“To you, as the media, you have the duty to ensure a transparent state and that we will protect you for. You have a duty to ensure that you are able to engage each other …
“But in your own hearts, when my office gets blamed for things you know it hasn’t done, do you feel you are deepening constitutional democracy? … The ball is in your court.”
Asked about the continuing insults by the ANC, Madonsela had some even tougher words, coming as close as she would to showing emotion.
“I have served the ANC, I have taken [up] arms under the ANC. A lot of the people who are insulting me, some of them are old enough to have been in the trenches with me, but they were not there when it was tough.
“I am not fazed by these people because, when there were no benefits of being in the struggle, they were not there.”