Public protector Thuli Madonsela says she is afraid that she no longer has the backing and protection of the South African government in the execution of her work, given the uncertain climate created by the controversy over the Nkandla report.
Madonsela, who is under huge pressure from the ANC and its allied structures after this newspaper published a leaked provisional report on security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home, told the Mail & Guardian this week: "In the past, we always felt that the government had our back when we undertook our work. But the current events have created a climate in which we are no longer sure that the government has our back to investigate and fight maladministration. But we want it understood that we seek not to harm."
Madonsela insisted that, although she felt no pressure, she felt "sadness" and was worried about her staff. "I feel we need to do something to protect my staff because whatever report is produced is the result of honest work by the people here. When there is a suggestion of underhandedness or lack of good faith in this office, it affects them."
This week she was engaged in a back-and-forth battle with the ANC after it accused her of leaking the report to the M&G and she called a press conference on Wednesday to deny it.
It also followed a day after the ANC’s media briefing in which it also challenged her to release the final report immediately.
She said she had not called the press conference to attack the party but rather to clarify misunderstandings.
"People died in the Holocaust not because Jews did anything to the Nazis but because of the persistent lies that the Nazis fed their nation. It was important for me not to attack the ANC but to clarify so that people out there who know me are not left with the impression that ‘Thuli does not want the ANC to win the elections’."
She said the perception that she was deliberately playing the issue out in the media was incorrect.
"This Nkandla matter was a media issue from 2009 and my office only picked it up in 2012. There is a misunderstanding that I am making it a media issue because people don’t know who started the story."
Madonsela said that the report into Nkandla had been marked by emotion, contradictory statements and misunderstandings, unlike any other report she has dealt with.
But she was confident that the controversy and outcry would not affect the report’s integrity or lead to its softening.
"If we allowed controversy to influence outcomes, the Farlam commission on Marikana killings, for example, would not give us a fair outcome. The public protector’s office is like a permanent commission of inquiry, so it should be able to handle all of that.
"So, no, the report will not be changed. If there is any change, it has to be justifiable. Remember that there is a version that has already gone out to the ministers, so it can’t change without questions. There would have to be accountability."
Madonsela said she did not feel under attack. "Everybody is trying to do their job."
She also said she intended to finish her seven-year term, which ends in 2016.
"I enjoy this work, particularly when I pick up Gogo Dlamini’s case and help her access justice. You feel you make a difference mostly in the David versus Goliath matters where David wins. My intention is to finish my term. But when I took the job I knew it came with all sorts of challenges. As I told my family, if I don’t finish the term for whatever reasons, I am at peace with that."
Madonsela said, in the past, she used to meet President Jacob Zuma once or twice a year but this was no longer the case due to their busy schedules. "Our stopping to meet has nothing do with this case. It is just that we are no longer available at the same times."
Responding to concerns that she should be keeping a lower profile, Madonsela said her work necessitated that she engages society about her work and reports.
"Once we release our reports, the standard practice is that we speak about it so that we get dialogue going. As an office, we don’t have coercive powers but we do have persuasive powers that encourage implementation of our recommendations.
"We have a responsibility to strengthen constitutional democracy and we do that by ensuring that ordinary people get to speak truth to power."