Interview: Thuli Madonsela counters bias slurs

Thuli Madonsela believes the ANC leadership supports her work. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Thuli Madonsela believes the ANC leadership supports her work. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Madonsela has also challenged her detractors to produce evidence of a lack of impartiality on her part. In an interview with the Mail & Guardian she also alleged a politician was behind a campaign to discredit her.

There are perceptions that you are taking a tough stance against the ANC while being soft on the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties.
I do not know about these growing perceptions, because the majority of people I meet are from the ANC and most of the leadership come to me and say do not back off – we signed up for clean governance; we signed up for doing our best to uplift the lives of the poor. So the leadership believes I am doing a good job.

Blade Nzimande, the South African Communist Party general secretary and higher education minister has repeatedly said you are part of a liberal offensive in South Africa hellbent on destabilising President Jacob Zuma's ­government and the ANC.
There are a few lone voices in the ANC who make unsubstantiated statements about us.
The first time Nzimande made those allegations I made a public challenge to him to provide proof and evidence. The second time I wrote to him to say he must give me evidence of the DA being favoured [by the office of the public protector] and the ANC being targeted. Even today I am still waiting for his response.

But, having said that, I have been accused of two specific cases, the first being about the communications tender awarded to the advertising agency TBWA/Hunt Lascaris by the DA's premier, after the final report found no unlawfulness.

The second case is about the Midvaal report [into allegations of corruption in the local government elections in 2011 on the part of the DA]. In fact, the report into the ­communications tender is much stricter [than people think] on factual findings and less strict on legal findings.

On the Midvaal report, I made the decision to change the draft from the deputy public protector [Shai] because it had internal inconsistencies. Nobody is alleging that the decision I made was unjust.

But did I change the draft report in order to remove the adverse findings? No.

Then there are the allegations that I delayed the report until the local government elections were over. This is not only untrue, it is [also] malicious and dishonest because I was asking for the draft. I asked for the draft long before the local government elections. It had nothing to do with the elections. In fact, the DA wanted it done expeditiously, but unfortunately it had internal inconsistencies. The allegations, therefore, are without basis.

Do you not think it was inappropriate for you to attend the DA meeting in the Western Cape, given these perceptions about your alleged close relationship with the party?
I attended the ANC's centenary celebrations in Mangaung in January and there was no controversy. In my opinion, this was more political than attending the DA's event about women. The event was organised by Dawn [the Democratic Alliance Women's Network]. Although it was a rally, there was no praising of the DA. It was a meeting about women's rights. I was there to talk about women's rights. All speeches were about women's rights.

There is talk that a high-ranking ANC politician is funding a smear  campaign against you. Do you know of the alleged campaign?
I have heard from my team and a journalist that there is a politician who is throwing money around to cast me as the DA and Helen Zille's weapon of mass destabilisation and as part of Zuma's re-election machinery. When the recent allegations surfaced, I thought it [could] be part of this campaign. The allegations against me unsettle my staff, but I have told them to focus on the job.  

Do you feel pressure at the moment?
I do not feel any pressure. I came into this job after being told that there would be occupational hazards or collateral damage. I expected it.

Are you confident that you will complete your seven-year term as public protector?
I cannot guarantee that I will complete my seven-year term. But if it is [centered on the] truth I will complete my term, because for Parliament or anyone to remove the public protector from his or her job they need a two-thirds majority. They are not looking at my removal. They are looking at my suspension from my job. It all depends on the president. He has the discretion to suspend me or not. It could be an indefinite suspension.

How is your relationship with Shai at the moment?
We have a professional relationship. As lawyers we know that we can differ without necessarily being adversaries. [After] I came back from leave in the past few weeks we have had meetings and she came to my birthday on September 28. She gave me a bear hug, a kiss and a bunch of flowers. I do not know if she has ill motives. She said to me she meant no harm.

The Limpopo provincial department of transport has threatened to take legal action against you, claiming that your findings were unsubstantiated because all ­decisions taken to appoint On-Point Engineering were in line with departmental policies.

My main finding with that department was that it failed to see an obvious discrepancy [with regard  to On-Point Engineering]. On-Point in its own admission said it was created for this tender and yet the ­department failed to pick up this obvious discrepancy. [There were] 14 companies or people who applied for the tender, but [they] were disqualified on minor infractions.

Departments' blame game continues unabatedly

The department of public works – and President Jacob Zuma – could be in for a rough ride.

Last week public protector Thuli Madonsela confirmed that her office was in the early stages of investigating how about R250-million was spent on Zuma's private residence near Nkandla, details of which were first reported by the Mail & Guardian in November last year.

This week, her office confirmed it would also investigate plans for Zumaville, a village to be built 3km from Zuma's homestead, which is anticipated to cost the state more than R1-billion, as first reported by the M&G in early August.

And although some of Madonsela's investigations have cleared those accused of wrong-doing – most notably and recently Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe there are signs that all is not well with the Nkandla development.

The Zumaville investigation is based on a complaint from AfriForum that Zuma is using his power to compel (or at least encourage) spending that will ultimately benefit him and his family.

It will require an examination of the relationship between Zuma, his Masibambisane rural development initiative, which claims it initiated the project, and various government departments.  – Phillip De Wet

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012).
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    Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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