Thuli Madonsela: “A female president who is just a proxy is worse than a man”
She has kept a low profile since leaving office in October. But speaking to more than 200 people at the Cape Town Press Club on 16 January, the cool and calm Madonsela reminds South Africans what strong leadership looks like.
South Africans of all stripes have one issue they want to know more about: the status of her last report, the ‘State of Capture’. It investigated the close relationship between President Jacob Zuma and the politically connected Gupta family.
The report criticised Zuma and some cabinet ministers, and revealed how the Gupta family had a significant say in who was appointed to key ministerial positions. It was released a few days before Madonsela’s seven-year tenure expired.
“No family alone should be controlling state resources. This is a democracy for the people and by the people,” Madonsela says.
She argues that a judge should “scrutinise” the report. Her findings recommended that the chief justice should provide a name for a person who could head the commission of enquiry.
“It is also to allow the President not to be a judge in his own courts. He has such a close relationship with the parties. It creates a conflict of interest”, says Madonsela.
Sceptics about the new mood of accountability in South Africa will point to the fact that public protector Busi Mkhwebane has kept the ‘State of Capture’ report under lock and key. She has indicated that she is still consulting various parties on what to do next.
Zuma is challenging the validity of the report, describing it as “funny, rushed and unfair”. And his office has indicated that he would be taking the report under review, so there is a real concern that the new public protector will not act on it.
Madonsela also says that she heard through media reports that she was being investigated for leaking audio material from the report but that so far nothing has come of it.
“I understand she [Mkhwebane] is instituting criminal charges against me. It can’t be a crime,” she explains.
Reflecting back on her time as one of South Africa’s most outspoken voices, she says it was never about her or a one-person crusade but rather about a team of people committed to serve the public. “We worked as a team all committed to service of the country,” she adds.
Madonsela will be spending time at Harvard University this year and working on the establishment of the Thuli Madonsela Foundation.
“I will be using my time at Harvard and using the space to look into the crystal ball of what is next for me. It’s a fellowship for the ‘has beens'” she added, laughing.
Madonsela’s thoughts on female presidents show her voice is relevant to the debate.
“I would love to have a female president, but not a female who is a proxy,” Madonsela says – perhaps a reference to Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma, the former wife of President Zuma and a candidate to replace him – “that makes her worse than a man.”