I can, but I won't take Zuma to court - Madonsela

Public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

Public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

“I can, but I won’t,” was the response by public protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday, when asked if she would take President Jacob Zuma to court if he failed to implement her Nkandla recommendations.  

“There is an African saying that says, if we go to court, we don’t come back as friends,” she added. Madonsela on Thursday sought to dispel claims that she was acting outside of her powers by insisting that Zuma implement her recommendations.  

At a press briefing in Pretoria on Thursday afternoon, Madonsela said she would request a meeting with Zuma “on the way forward”, following the “hysteria” surrounding the fallout from her Nkandla investigation.  

She requested “stakeholders outside the state” to respect the boundaries between public and private institutions, including political parties and the state. Madonsela’s damning report (“Secure in Comfort”) into the spending, was released in March. Madonsela found that Zuma had unduly benefitted from the addition to his homestead of a cattle kraal, amphitheatre, and swimming pool, and recommended that he pay back a reasonable percentage of the costs. 

Zuma responded to Madonsela’s report on August 14, saying that he would ask the minister of police, Nkosinathi Nhleko, to decide who was responsible for Nkandla and who should pay back the costs. 

‘Not in the public interest’
Madonsela wrote to Zuma insisting that his response was inadequate. The letter was leaked to the City Press and Sunday Times newspapers, a move that Madonsela on Thursday said was “not in the public interest” and amounted to interference with her office. She insisted that the letter was leaked by a senior ANC politician but did not name the source, in spite of calls from the ANC for her to do so.

On Monday, the ANC accused Madonsela of undermining Parliament and acting above the Constitution. Madonsela said on Thursday that the “mudslinging and hysteria” that resulted from the leak was “not the way to go”. Instead, she said the speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete could have written to her if she felt her letter undermined Parliament. 

She said this would have given her an opportunity to explain herself. “That process would have been sober and evidence-based,” Madonsela said. Madonsela said the ANC had made it seem like her letter was overreaching.

“But the truth is that my office always follows up on remedial action to be taken,” Madonsela said, indicating that her letter was standard procedure. She said the “noise” was “not coming from government”, without mentioning the ANC specifically. In fact, she said her engagements with Zuma and government had always been positive, until the letter was leaked.

While Madonsela briefed the media on Thursday, the ANC took to twitter to hammer home its point that she was acting outside of her office’s mandate by writing to Zuma. 

Moments earlier, Madonsela said that actors outside of the state needed to respect the boundaries between public and private institutions, and party and state. She did not mention the party by name but ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa tweeted:

Madonsela was asked to respond to the ANC’s tweets. She called for mudslinging to stop, but said the attacks did not bother her. This was because she had served in the “trenched” with the ANC in the past. “There’s people who have no respect. There’s just a principal of human dignity,” she said. “Hooliganism masquerading as spokesmanship must be reigned in. You don’t throw mud and remain with clean hands… “I have served the ANC, I have taken 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 phased by these people, because when there were no benefits of being in the struggle they were not there.”   Meanwhile on Twitter, Kodwa sought to draw the issue back to who leaked Madonsela’s letter to Zuma, to two Sunday newspapers.   

But Madonsela would not budge, telling the press conference in Pretoria that she would not reveal the name of the source, but that those who wanted to know who it was could ask the newspapers themselves. She also denied that the country was now at constitutional crisis point. 

Madonsela called for more dialogue to address hostilities between her office and those who sought to paint her as a “populist”.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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