Editorial: Welcome to open canvassing

Public protector Thuli Madonsela's successor should, like any high office, not be decided on in secret meetings. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Public protector Thuli Madonsela's successor should, like any high office, not be decided on in secret meetings. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma got the top job in the ANC by pretending he did not want it. He would do as the party demanded of him, he kept telling us in 2007, but he wouldn’t dream of telling the party what to do. This even as an entire campaign machine was built around him.

  Internal ANC elections feature the most egregious examples of “campaigning by not campaigning”, but the same false modesty infects large swaths of our body politic. Instead of open lobbying there are closed-door meetings, and instead of honest campaigning there are sly hints and nudges.

You could, uncharitably, say that we often put people in high positions based on just how disingenuous they can be. Then we’re shocked when they later turn out to be corrupt charlatans.

Thanks to a famous Constitutional Court ruling, the position of public protector is now one of the most powerful in the land, competing head-on in importance with the posts of inspector general of intelligence, auditor general and speaker of the National Assembly.

Thuli Madonsela’s investigative powers are wide, her reach is almost unlimited and her marching orders can only be overturned by a court – and her office has deep pockets to fight any such legal attempts.

That makes it all the more refreshing to see open and honest campaigning for the post.

Deputy public protector Kevin Malunga took to Twitter this week, retweeting endorsements of his application for the post. A few of the nominees also wrote their own letters of motivation to the parliamentary committee that must recommend a candidate to Zuma.

Malunga, by dint of holding public office, will probably come in for criticism, as will any who dare show that they actually want the job. We hope that especially the ANC benches in Parliament can get over their conditioning and see such canvassing for what it is: the best thing to happen to democracy since democracy.

Yes, Parliament should nominate a public protector and, yes, the president should appoint that protector; direct elections are too fraught, not to mention expensive. But we should not even consider giving the job of public protector to somebody who pretends not to want it – nor somebody who doesn’t fight hard to get it. Just as we should never allow into any high office those who think they can con their way into it.

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