– Free the public protector from a political office image in which the public has varied definitions-
The Public Protector who during 2011, was crowned along with the former ANCYL leader Julius Malema as newsmakers of the year has in recent months been the falling star. It appears both newsmakers of 2011, owe extensive mileage to the “fourth estate” who invested in them.
Advocate Thuli Madonsela the third public protector after Selby Baqwa and later Lawrence Mushwana who both remained out of the limelight and at times invisible of public sphere clearly took on her job with a different verve and energy at least if the media attention attest in truth. She proves visible letting no opportunity slip by to brief the “public” on many instances. This led to her quickly attained a role of saviour of SA.
Social media sites like Facebook propelled by a COPE affinity even had a group called “Hands of the Public Protector”, this was borne from the claimed view that she was under threat.
Adv. Madonsela as an independent mind and clearly a media embraced personality had crafted a presence for herself and her office as the defender of the public against the government per se. Hence ‘clever’ opposition politicians would use that as a means to prove her independence.
I warned amidst much condemnation at that juncture against the idea of creating a political image of a chapter 9 institution. My warning emanated from the duality that opposition parties was at pains in an almost blackmail fashion to have her as independent from leading party influence and control but equally wanted her as their spokesman against the ANC led government often for cheap political reasons and motivation.
Madonsela as an official one could be forgiven for being cynical enjoyed every minute of the attention, the spotlight the flashing cameras and at some stage she almost had the popularity of an elected politician. It was to her that opposition parties wrote requesting investigations for impasses in my view on political issues explained in potential corruption.
She hogged the media headlines as case after case she took on particularly showing an appetite to stem corruption. Thuli took on these sensational in public embrace cases notwithstanding questions and admissions on capacity challenges and internal rumblings of claims and counter claims in her own unit.
What was interesting is that her acceptance of cases let us say “high profile cases” came almost always inspired or at the request of the DA. One is not sure how many requests Madonsela’s office is receiving yet it seems the DA has a permanent pigeon hole with her office address as recipient.
The media celebrated our Public Protector as independent and a means to stymie ANC led government initiatives in asking questions from issued tenders to politically motivated speculated views dressed in claims of corruption.
Thuli did not shy away from accepting these cases mixed with a sense of personal vindication, for it would prove she is no lackey of government as she endeared herself to those who claim government endemically corrupt.
Madonsela’s reports be they interim or final reports at times proves conflicting, too much made off and even accused of lacking in substance.
If we look at her preliminary investigations on Malema and the claimed Limpopo government tender irregularities, she found that no evidence of corruption existed yet the paperwork of the affected municipalities to corroborate the work delivered was not up to standard or in line with required PFMA requirements. Needless to say her findings did not conclusively conclude on the claimed corruption at least for some. Hence her report became the subject of much debate.
It is to Thuli that others take their claim of innocence such as the Deputy President Motlanthe in asking for an investigation to clear his partner’s and his name in the publicised Iran military parts for sale claims. It is to Thuli that the Minister of Human Settlements Sexwale writes to have his name cleared of political in-fights of the ANC.
Perhaps her biggest case was that of the Public Works and Police office lease scandal. Big for the money involved literally over a R1.2bn and also big because it set the tone for the establishment of a Presidential Commission that ultimately found against the flamboyant and avuncular General Cele. In a sense if her work is celebrated it is because she played a role in removing Cele seen by some as a major political victory. Those who call for the head of all others but themselves.
All was well until Thuli decided to investigate the Hunt Lascaris TWBA tender appointment for the DA – Led Western Cape Provincial government. Feeling the heat of claims that she is biased and being used by opposition parties as a means to an end, she took on this case.
Her interim report found traces of undue influence, an unequal representation of DA exemplified in more than two members on the panel that adjudicated and possible maladministration as it relates to value for money. Needless to say this interim report was rejected by the DA leader as shallow and blatantly deceiving. Zille came to rude realisation that it was easier to say tsa vat hom! than to be the subject of investigation. The celebrated work of the Public protector because of this one case became shoddy workmanship.
Helen Zille the former journalist vehemently objected to the interim report. Thuli stunned us all when in her final draft she edited the strong claims of the interim report watering down her own interim findings.
We still need to hear from Madonsela to explain in her usual public briefing fashion the change of heart and clear conflict in the two reports. What stands is her final report exonerated the DA from what her interim report concluded.
This ambivalence is perhaps becoming the defining trait of our Public Protector.
Ambivalence perhaps not easily corroborated yet more than a whiff when we read of member of Parliament Bantu Holomisa complaining that Madonsela proves choosey and lethargic to engage and act by investigating those close to her. Holomisa argues that such prove is the Pansy Tlakula current IEC chairperson case. While Holomisa as a politician could be accused of many things for his claim against the public protector, Madonsela has no right to argue now in semblance of arrogance ” I am not compelled to accept Holomisa’s request to investigate but decided to accept it after assessing”.
The right to decide when a request is lodged is duly enshrined and is not the subject of contention. What is disconcerting is the lack of energy bemoaned by a Holomisa.
A further danger lurks when the deciding is perceived to be informed by more of a preference. Suggesting there could be variables in such deciding that may prove ever- changing. It certainly raises more questions as to the criteria for qualification for acceptance of cases “worthy “of her public resources. If the latter is true it would render the office of the public protector open for potential substantial manipulation and abuse.
The Madonsela we hear now sounds like someone who has political power , is it possible that the most famous chapter 9 institution in democratic South Africa has an incumbent who became a victim of the rhetoric of SA politics. The victim of the black – white psyche, a victim of the elite and worker class paradigms and possibly a victim of presidential campaigns.
Whilst Madonsela is celebrated as the joint newsmaker for 2011, it is clear her star is falling and she will more and more become the subject of suspicion, her office may become more and more the object of question as she is viewed by those who make up the public.
If she is today a waning star it could be due to a combination of factors amongst others her personal appetite for the media, her vulnerability in singularity to prove her independence from government manipulation, yet her subliminal acceptance of a “spokesperson” position for the opposition (perhaps not consciously).
If Madonsela is today questioned from all corners it is because she proved ambivalent when it mattered. This ambivalence immanent in her report on the DA tender scandal. Her energy to pursue some as oppose to her lethargy to pursue others creates a conundrum of definition of what is defined in Thuli’s mind as the public.
If Thuli is today questioned and no longer celebrated it could be that she got caught in the hustle and bustle of politics in which some seek to use her to get even with others to run South Africa either as party or as presidential hopeful.
Yet notwithstanding the above South Africa needs a public protector who is free from influence not only from an assumed government manipulation but equally from a vicious and self-serving opposition.
It needs a Public protector who must maintain a critical distance of reflection between itself and those who claim a fourth estate right in the superlative.
It needs a protector who will investigate less of preference but imbued by a conviction wrong is wrong and never will be right regardless who is implicated.
It needs a public protector who understands the political intricacies of this Society, its villain and victim mindset, its hidden agendas it’s fears and monopolized controls.
South Africa as a public needs nothing less. Maybe Baqwa and Mushwana understood this less or maybe they knew the media can make or break you, hence steer clear from influence and desists its offerings for its demands in the end are high, for they do represent a public just not always the one the office of the public protector in constitutional dictate defines.
Clyde N. Ramalaine