She speaks in whispering tones and is always immaculately dressed. When she walks into a room and begins speaking, people sit up and listen. Fearless and resolute, this is the woman who has taken on some of South Africa’s most powerful politicians – and won. This woman is Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the country’s Public Protector.
A human rights lawyer and activist, with beginnings as a unionist and assistant teacher, Madonsela helped draft South Africa’s world-famous Constitution after the country became a democracy in 1994 – giving up a Harvard scholarship to do so.
The office of South Africa’s Public Protector is tasked with strengthening constitutional democracy and good governance. It’s a chapter nine institution, meaning it’s independent from the state and has the power to investigate and make recommendations on improper dealings within government, which hamper service-delivery, abuse taxpayers’ money and perpetuate poverty and inequality.
Madonsela has fulfilled this mandate with faultless precision, vigour and determination since taking up office in 2009, promoting a culture of constructive dialogue around service-delivery failures as opposed to violent protests.
Investigating the likes of expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, controversial ex-police chief Bheki Cele and a string of big-spending government ministers, Madonsela is turning up the heat on abusive office bearers.
Corruption Watch’s director David Lewis last year described her as “South Africa’s, most important bulwark against corruption”.