Mailbox: Madonsela’s replacement every SAs concern – tough boots to fill.

By Willem Jardine*

Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the incumbent Public Protector, has made the Office of the Public Protector, South Africa (PPSA), the most relevant, most recognized, and arguably the most politically independent, fearless and effective Constitutional “Chapter 9” institution in SA.

Chapter 9 institutions are created by our Constitution to promote, maintain, monitor and enforce democracy, to sanction those who are undemocratic, and to remedy the consequences of undemocratic practices. The PPSA is specifically responsible for ensuring that all levels of government, all government-controlled entities, all civil servants and elected officials practice constitutional democracy.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela speaks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa May 10,2016. Picture taken May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela speaks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa May 10,2016. Picture taken May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

The door of the Public Protector is open to every South African to report service delivery failure, maladministration, financial mismanagement, fraud, abuse of office, corruption, and undemocratic behaviour on the part of all levels of government, government-controlled entities, civil servants and elected officials – for investigation and for remedial action.

In practice, the role of the PPSA is that of ombudsman.

Read also: Full list of Public Protector nominees. Who’s best suited to fill Madonsela’s shoes?

I know – because I had the privilege to serve on the panel of external investigators of the PPSA; one of the most educational, challenging, and professionally satisfying experiences of my life – and a prestigious accomplishment for a forensic investigator in private practice.

Of course, the PPSA is not perfect. It is a function of government, and like all functions of government, it is subject to all nature of bureaucratic bumbling. Not surprisingly, not everyone who brings a complaint to the PPSA walks away with the sense that a complaint is resolved to their satisfaction. But, hey, when we are given a sweet for free, do we have a right to complain when we get a lollipop instead of a slab of Cadbury’s?

Still, it remains my opinion that Madonsela has done far more than any of her predecessors to maintain the independence of the PPSA, and to advance its objectives. And, from my (limited) personal interactions with her, I learned that she possesses a legal brilliance that is balanced by savvy logic, that she has an acute understanding of her role as the PPSA (that she has even enlightened her superiors to what that role is), and that she possesses a humility that only those who are regularly forced to confront themselves can possess. (Humility is not to be confused with modesty…)

Madonsela’s legislatively non-extendible seven year term of office is about to expire at a time when, more than ever, SA needs a person of her calibre at the helm of the PPSA; someone who will not permit the PPSA to become the subject of state/political-capture, who will not permit political affiliations to influence the functioning of the PPSA, who will fiercely defend the independence of the PPSA, who is not afraid to exercise the powers of the PPSA, who is not afraid of controversy, and who champions the cause of democracy in a country whose senior leaders are all-too-often undemocratic in the pursuit of their personal agendas.

Every South African should be deeply concerned about who will replace Madonsela.

But who will?

Originally, 79 candidates were nominated. As of June, this number had been whittled down to 59. If you want to know who they are, go to Parliament’s website, where you will find a detailed list of the 59, where each name on the list is a hyperlink to the CV of the associated candidate. I have not adequately researched the CVs of the qualifying candidates, and neither do I know enough about the criteria that will be employed to select the new PPSA, to hazard a guess as to who will succeed Madonsela. But, I note that the selection committee has the luxury of a group of candidates with an extremely broad skill set to choose from – including a the incumbent deputy PPSA. I also note that none other than William Hofmeyer, former and oft-quoted head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit that worked so successfully with the disbanded Scorpions, and who – I suspect – has now quietly been side-lined as one of four Deputy National Directors of Public Prosecutions, is in the mix.

I wonder how Mr Hofmeyer will rate in Madonsela’s heels?

While the choice of PPSA is now out of the hands of “Joe Public”, we can only hope that Madonsela is replaced by someone who can build on the formidable legacy she leaves in her wake.

  • Willem Jardine, CEO, FSG Forensics