Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s Public Protector who famously took on President Jacob Zuma over the use of taxpayers’ money to upgrade his country home, was honoured at a lavish ceremony on Wednesday in Berlin.
Ms Madonsela, who resigned from the office only last month after completing her 7-year term, received the prestigious Africa Prize awarded annually by the German Africa Foundation (Deutsche Afrika Stiftung or DAS).
At the event, attended by more than 300 guests in the German capital city, Prof Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag who presented the prize to Ms Madonsela, praised the South African as “an extra-ordinary personality whose example goes far beyond her mandate and country”. Madonsela was honoured for her efforts against corruption in South Africa.
The office of South Africa’s Public Protector is tasked with strengthening constitutional democracy and good governance. It’s independent of the government and has the power to investigate and make recommendations on improper dealings within government.
Though an appointee of President Jacob Zuma, she investigated complaints about public spending on the president’s private country home in the KwaZulu-Natal town of Nkandla in 2014. Madonsela found that Zuma had benefited unduly from the R246 million ($16.7m) the state had spent on the upgrades.
In 2012, Thulisile Madonsela had investigated “kickbacks” received by Julius Malema, leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, in the context of traffic department contracts.
Madonsela, who was appointed for a non-renewable seven-year term commencing 19 October 2009, has not only received accolades for her efforts but also criticisms and even threats to her life. A lawyer, she served as a full-time member of the South African Law Reform Commission before her appointment as Public Protector.
Madonsela said the late Nelson Mandela was her inspiration as a public servant. “We will always admire him for gladly submitting his administration to the scrutiny of checks and balances such as the courts and institutions supporting democracy when its actions came into question,” she said in a tribute to him after his death in 2014. She was named by Forbes Africa as the “Person of the Year” only a few weeks ago.
A human rights lawyer and activist, Madonsela was a member of the team who drafted the final constitution of South Africa promulgated by then President Nelson Mandela in 1996. She will receive the prize at a ceremony to be held in Berlin later in the year.
Sola Jolaoso & Onyinye Okoye