Shortly after Noseweek concluded its interviews with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela for the profile in this issue, Advocate Madonsela left at short notice for a conducted tour of the endlessly controversial Fort Zuma at Nkandla (our description, not hers). This was, by her own account, the last stage of her office’s investigation of the R270 million spent by the state on recent improvements to the “security” facilities at the president’s private residential complex in KwaZulu-Natal. It is not only one of her more challenging investigations; it is the one that many fear could bring a sudden end to her career. Her latest walk along the edge of the precipice prompts this last-minute update to our piece.
Thuli Madonsela is strikingly confident, intelligent and as straight a talker as you are likely to find anywhere; this makes her not only remarkably suited to the job she has been given, but also an extremely rewarding subject to interview.
So, straight to the task. First question: Was the Minister of Defence’s (publicly unexpected) willingness to give her a conducted tour of Nkandla possibly intended as a test of Madonsela’s loyalty to the president and his party?
Answer: “I have no idea how they interpret it. I requested access. Every investigation we do is done in the same way. An on-site inspection is always potentially part of an investigation plan. First you collect the documentary evidence and witness statements. Then, at the end, you test your findings – you assess the reality – with your own eyes.”
Second question: Are there reasonable limits to state expenditure on the security of the president’s and cabinet ministers’ private residences – particularly in view of the fact that the state already provides them with official secure residences, both in Cape Town and Pretoria, while they are in office?
Answer: “Sadly, if I told you, I would be disclosing our view. Our job is to apply the rules; to establish what happened – and what should have happened. Was any deviation from what should have happened reasonable? What is the extent of the discrepancy between the actual situation and what might have been deemed reasonable?”
Final question: Where do you, yourself, live? Does your own private residence have security features paid for by the state?
Answer: “No, not at all. When things started happening which potentially threatened my security at home, I sold my house and moved to a house in a security complex, at my own expense.”
As we go to press, we do not know what her findings on Nkandla will be. What we do know is that Thuli Madonsela embodies all the values her office represents, and all the ideals the new democratic era promised. As an institution, her office seeks to be trusted, effective and accessible; to right administrative wrongs and consistently act with integrity to ensure fair, accountable and responsive decision-making, service and good governance in all state affairs and public administration. Right now that represents a pleasant interlude in a long night of nightmares.
We don’t have to agree with every one of the Public Protector’s findings. But, with Thuli Madonsela in office, when the question is raised of who will protect the Public Protector, I am more confident than ever of the answer. The public will protect the Public Protector.
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