A smiling Thuli Madonsela reacted to the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Thursday, calling it a “historic day” and saying that the role of her office had now been clarified.
“My job was to protect the public from improper conduct by firstly determining if somebody’s conduct was improper and secondly determining how should it be fixed,” Madonsela said. “I did so and now the Constitutional Court has confirmed that I did my job.”
While Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng read the ruling from the Constitutional Court, Madonsela said her team sat glued to the TV, silently engrossed in the proceedings with the exception of an occasional celebratory “Amandla!”. Madonsela took pride in the ruling, saying it upheld the Public Protector’s right to investigate and confirms the powers of the office are binding.
She said celebrations will be put on hold however, as a Hawks investigation still looms over her head.
“I would celebrate if the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) and the Hawks can at least by tonight send me a report that says they have stopped investigating me. I’m being investigated with the potential of being prosecuted for holding this view that my powers are binding,” Madonsela said. “It would be nice if this could trigger them to give me a report that says I’m not a criminal, I’m a public protector.”
Since the Public Protector’s office first released its findings, which included the remedial action that should be implemented for Zuma to repay a portion of the Nkandla upgrades, Madonsela has come under fire from Zuma defenders. She joined the Constitutional Court case, initiated by the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance, to defend her own office and in the public interest.
Although many believe that the dismissal of her report by Zuma was blatant disregard for her office, Madonsela sees it differently.
“I wouldn’t say there’s been blatant disregard for my office. I would say there was sophisticated disregard for my office,” Madonsela said, citing the Omar Al Bashir matter, when internationally wanted Al Bashir was snuck into Nkandla, rather than blatantly brought into the country.
Madonsela, who will soon take leave of the Public Protector’s office, said that she has faith that Parliament will not limit her successor from criticising the government. One of the lessons of the Nkandla saga, she said, is that people who exercise authority should be wary of surrounding themselves with praise-singers.
“I have faith in the system in believing that everyone has learnt their lessons. There will be no point in government appointing a Public Protector who will lead government towards a cliff. You might as well not have a Public Protector,” Madonsela said.
The Public Protestor’s team is now looking forward to extending an olive branch to Parliament, Cabinet, the executive and other officials of authority in government in order to build a partnership that focuses on improper conduct and strengthening South Africa’s democracy.
“The Public Protector comes and goes, the person. The Public Protector as an institution never leaves,” Madonsela said.