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Ferial Haffajee: Thuli Madonsela Should Have Paid Back The Money. Here's Why.

The former public protector was the Amazonian guard of the public rand, which she watched over with excellence and an unparalleled zeal.

06/02/2017 15:58 SAST | Updated 07/02/2017 14:09 SAST

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela did have to pay back the money.

Here's the story; in 2012, Madonsela's son Wanto, took his mom's beautiful X6 BMW on a joy ride.

He picked up a friend, then dodged a dog somewhere on the way and then lost control of the wheel and crashed into a wall. The car was an expensive write-off –- a R420,000.00 write-off of public money.

In the broader scheme of misdemeanor, it's nothing. As South Africans, we have become inured to waste and mismanagement of our hard-earned money and we barely bat an eye when billions are lost. Most South African tax comes from individuals like you and me with corporations paying a smaller piece of the national spending pie.

Madonsela was the Amazonian guard of the public rand, which she watched over with excellence and an unparalleled zeal. She is the totemic figure of what we want in public servants. She was the ideal for how public money should be spent on the public and guarded from the greedy and the careless. For this, she won national love and international acclaim.

Her son took the car and she is responsible for the car as it was in her custodianship.

And so, I think Madonsela did have to pay back the money for Wanda's misdemeanor. It is clear that incumbent protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is motivated by pique and anger, but that is all the more reason for Madonsela to take the higher road.

The former public protector says she took legal advice, which said she was not responsible because her son had not taken the car with her permission. The auditor general's office agreed with this advice.

With respect, but that is a poor and technical excuse –- almost as poor as President Jacob Zuma saying he did not give permission for the R246 million worth of upgrades to his personal estate at Nkandla and therefore was not responsible for them. An ethical stance would see Madonsela take a different view.

Her son took the car and she is responsible for the car as it was in her custodianship. Madonsela has already paid the excess on the insurance but the government insurer refused to pay the principal amount. It is a steep amount, but for her legacy as the ultimate warrior of public ethics and good governance, our best public protector ever should do the right thing and write the cheque.

Editor's Note: Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said at a press conference last week following her first 100 days in office that she would be charging her predecessor for an outstanding matter regarding her state car. Mkhwebane said Madonsela would be charged nearly R500 000 for allegedly using her state-provided BMW for longer than she should have and for her son crashing the car years ago after driving it without permission. The money was taken from her once-off gratuity payment. Madonsela has disputed the action.