Social Justice, Democracy and Good Governance in South Africa

Thuli Nomkhosi Madonsela is the former Public Protector of South Africa and Chairperson of the African Ombudsman Research Centre in Durban, South Africa. Since Advocate Madonsela took office, the Public Protector as a constitutional institution has tackled tough questions on administrative law and justice, good governance and executive ethics. She is also one of the drafters of South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution. Thuli has spoken truth to power under extraordinary conditions where the powerful apparatus of the State as well as the governing party have attempted to undermine the rule of law. Advocate Madonsela’s investigation into what is known as the Nkandla scandal won a groundbreaking victory in the Constitutional Court, which held the President accountable for paying back the taxpayer money he spent on upgrading his personal home.Thuli Madonsela is part of the 2016 class of Tällberg Global Leaders.

Learn more about Thuli Madonsela

What drives you?

What has driven me has been a sense of gratitude, a sense of having been given the privilege of being educated, and being welcomed into spaces where I can make a difference. In a country like South Africa, or in the world generally, those of us who have been given an education and positions in society tend to carry the hopes and dreams of others. And because, I have been blessed, I want to pass on that blessing to others.

You have said before that ‘your best contribution as a human being would not be a politician’. Where does that statement come from?

I value politicians and politics. I have supported them {politicians} as an adviser. I was given an opportunity to go to parliament in 1994, a very straight line to go there, not a competitive process. It is a personal choice about my skills, my passion, and the contribution I could make. For as long as I can remember the contribution I have made has been to advise others to do the right thing, and then also to adjudicate, or, where possible, to conciliate and mediate to get people do the right thing. That has been since before I qualified as a lawyer. Even after I qualified as a lawyer I worked for free because it just gave me joy. I think I come alive when I assist people to ensure justice. I also think that if we want a world that is peaceful then justice, particularly social justice is something that we must all work for.

Why is corruption increasing, and what needs to be done about it?

As part of the global community against corruption and our local community against corruption, we have identified several fault lines. The one fault line is prevention, the need to teach or inculcate ethics from childhood to adulthood. It’s not enough to tell people to behave ethically, to put people first and not themselves first. Once they are already in government, those values should have been inculcated when they were still in school. And if we inculcate those values even when people choose others who have to govern them, they will think about what kind of a person should go into government. It should be somebody who is ethical, it should be somebody who puts the people first, because they are going to be put in a position of trust. The public won’t be aware of what they’re doing, they will only depend on the trust.

What do you consider your most important achievement to date?

I would say the most important achievement for me has been getting our society to understand that maladministration, improper conduct and corruption hurts. And it hurts the individual…it hurts society. As a society, we’ve always understood that crime hurts, and therefore, if I’m going to use mafia language, we all have “to go to the mattresses” against crime. It’s not always been clear to everyone that maladministration can hurt more than crime. It hurts not just individuals, it destroys systems, and it can destroy democracy and the dreams of an entire nation.

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