No longer whispering to power: The story of Thuli Madonsela

By Gracious Madondo

THULI Madonsela has been touted as  one of the most valued and active social justice crusaders in South Africa.         

Shy and soft spoken, she has been active in human rights, academic and gender circles for a while before her appointment as public protector in 2009.

It is thus timely for Thandeka Gqubule to have penned the book, “No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela” (2017) as it encaspulates all the teething issues during her reign as the public protector.

“No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela” is the compelling work of author-journalist Thandeka Gqubule.

The book chronicles the life and accomplishments of Madonsela in the history of South African politics.

This is a story she tells with great passion and enthusiasm.

“No Longer Whispering to Power” depics Madonsela’s “childhood years, family, her involvement in politics, her time in prison, her contribution to the constitution and her life in law.”

In reading the book, one gets the sense of it being dedication to the women with whom she was incarcerated together with by the apartheid government.

The title of the book is derived from Madonsela’s own words as she tried to describe her position and responsibilities as the public protector of South Africa when she once said: “I am like the Makhadzi, a Venda traditional figure who plays an important role of being the go-betweener.”

In an interview, Gqubule, revealed that while it is the duty of the Makhadzi to act as such and act as a merciful figure and mediator whispering into the ears of the leader, this quiet diplomacy changes when the system’s governance goes wrong. Makhadzi will then make her voice heard.

Thuli was born Thulisile Madonsela on September 28, 1962 in a family of six in Soweto. The family used to share the kitchen for bed with her siblings.

Madonsela later left Soweto due to the socio-political unrest inflicted by the apartheid government and went to Swaziland to acquire an education.

She acquired a BA Law Degree at University of Swaziland in 1987 and an LLB at Witwatersrand University in 1990.

As Gqubule explores, she got the degree much to the disapproval of her patriarchal father who wanted her to be a nurse.

Madonsela pursued her dream to exercise the rule of law and deliver justice to all.

While narrative is crispy and squarely fits in the realm of a typical official autobiography, the book fails short in that it focuses more on the professional part of Madonsela’s life, portraying her as a powerful woman who is not defined by her personal background but rather by her works and achievements.

Gqubule’s work traces the political life of a woman who lived her dream and purpose in creating a South Africa whose rule of law knows no boundaries and rules without favour.

As Gqubule further notes, it was the core business of Madonsela’s position to create a bond of trust between the people of South Africa and their leaders, a state of liaison that is only achievable through the fair instruction of all by the law.

And with this Madonsela refers to herself as “the product of the South African people”.

On October 19, 2009, President Jacob Zuma appointed Madonsela into the office of public protector, a non-renewable office that she would run for seven years. This position never seemed to trouble or burden Madonsela as it was her childhood dream to change the world for the better using the hand of the law. Gqubule points out that she was the first woman ever to attain such a position in the history of South Africa.

President Zuma’s decision of appointing Madonsela into the public protector office was a dream come true for Madonsela but it soon turned out to be the President’s greatest political mistake. 

It was considered a fatal mistake because Madonsela’s investigations left no stone unturned in exposing corruption and delivering justice even when it concerned the highest office in the land.

Her report titled “Secure In Comfort”, revealed how President Jacob Zuma allegedly used tax payers money to build himself a lavish home in his rural residence complete with an amphitheater and an underground bunk.

The report epitomised the hypocrisy of the post-apartheid leaders as Gqubule writes: “The new post-colonial elites consumed with displays of newfound wealth and creature comforts, and incapable of attending to its democratically assigned role of governing the interests of all.”

During her term in the office, Madonsela displayed great bravery and dedication with her daring investigations aimed at serving justice at all odds.

As Gqubule chronicles the time Madonsela was at work in the public protector’s office, journalists and those in the media had much to write about especially between 2008-2009 with journalists and socio-political commentators such as Justice Malala delivering intriguing reports about men in the high offices based on Thuli’s reports including a report titled “State of Capture” which she unfortunately never released until her term in office expired.

The uprising against apartheid was fueled by the youths of South Africa, who wanted to break free from the inequalities based on race that their parents had become accustomed to and had become blind to.

As Gqubule interprets this moment in history, Madonsela joined the cause and was incarcerated alongside other women such as Barbara Hogans, Claire Write, Susan Nkomo, Nomawambo Msizi as well as other male activists.

The physical and mental torture of prison could not extinguish the spirit and hunger for justice within Madonsela as illustrated in none of her speeches when she said,  “young people were hungry for something greater than themselves. They wanted to belong to a community of people seized with the great challenge of improving society”.

While critics will interpret this book as some kind of kneejerk publication meant to capitalise on the controversial reign of Madonsela as the public prosecutor, there is no denying that the text contributes immensely to a better understanding of South Africa as it struggles to build its young democracy.

September 2017
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