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EXCLUSIVE: 'Thuli Madonsela, State Capture And The Day of Rage'

HuffPost SA publishes an exclusive extract from the former public protector's unauthorised biography.

25/04/2017 09:23 SAST | Updated 25/04/2017 11:55 SAST
Lucas Jackson / Reuters
Honoree and human rights lawyer, Thuli Madonsela arrives at the Time 100 gala celebrating the magazine's naming of the 100 most influential people in the world for the past year, in New York April 29, 2014.

Meanwhile, back at the imposing, cream-coloured Public Protector building in Pretoria, behind closed doors, (Busisiwe) Mkhwebane (Madonsela's successor) had brought her intelligence and security shoes with her to her job in the house of justice. Some of Madonsela's former colleagues complained that she was marginalising them, and that she had made judgements about many of them without sufficient information about their capabilities and attitudes to their work. It was at this time that CEO Louisa Zondo resigned.

As Zondo, a former human rights lawyer and gender activist, was preparing to leave, the country was planning mass marches to confront Jacob Zuma in the streets of the capital on a day of rage and protest. Opposition leaders called on South Africans to defend their country against a criminal syndicate. As it had before the 9 February march to the top of Constitution Hill by the DA in blue and the EFF in red, the city braced itself for angry hordes in political regalia, this time on the move towards the seat of the executive arm of government, the Union Buildings.

Julius Malema urged South Africans to protest: finance minister Pravin Gordhan would go to court on the same day on charges of fraud, a salvo from Team Zuma in the battle by forces amenable to the Gupta family and the president to capture the National Treasury.

Posters on streetlamps all over the country called on citizens of every city, town and village to join the day of protest action on 2 November. Julius Malema urged South Africans to protest: finance minister Pravin Gordhan would go to court on the same day on charges of fraud, a salvo from Team Zuma in the battle by forces amenable to the Gupta family and the president to capture the National Treasury.

Also on the protestors' agenda was a cause very dear to Madonsela's heart, in which she had been involved with her daughter – the cause to support students at the country's universities in their quest for free higher education.

The #Feesmustfall and #Zuptamustfall contingents both demanded President Zuma to step down, on the back of the findings of Madonsela's State of Capture report. Anger spilled hot onto the streets of the capital, covered live on local television broadcasts. The international media dipped in, commenting and editorialising and carrying their stories to faraway lands, telling citizens of the world the story of how South Africans had fallen out of love with Jacob Zuma and in love with courageous, corruption-busting Thuli Madonsela.

By dusk on the day of rage, it was clear that Madonsela had earned herself an indelible place in the story of post-apartheid South Africa.

But, this time, the protest was different: a fifth column in yellow, green and black – disaffected members of the ANC – joined the opposition in the streets in a historic demonstration of discontent as they started their own movement to save the ANC.

By dusk on the day of rage, it was clear that Madonsela had earned herself an indelible place in the story of post-apartheid South Africa.

***

'I leave office quite cynical about human beings. They can lie under oath with a straight face,' said Madonsela in the last days of her tenure as she prepared to wrap up the State of Capture report.

To those who do not understand her most primal code of behaviour, statements like this one may sound naïve. But these words come from one who had, all her life, to trust in the goodness of human beings, in the struggle against apartheid, in prison and in the trenches of the trade union movement. The church in which Madonsela was raised also framed her view of the world. This moral certitude and rectitude accounted for much of her self-possession and sense of honour. Her legendary self-awareness and composure under pressure had been the source of her power and appeal since her awkward teenage years. The State of Capture report, and the intrigue and shenanigans that preceded and followed its release for public consumption and use, had challenged her value systems the most in her term of office. 'But in the end they will see that I held them to the same standard that I held myself to, too,' she said.35 Statements like this one emerge from the core of her belief system: about how to be in the world, and how reality ought to work.

Ways of being, systems of meaning and epistemology are maps that guide us through the maze of life on this side of eternity. They are soul maps. They can also become our behaviour signatures here on earth. State of Capture was certainly Madonsela's most existentially and intellectually challenging report. Her battles involving this report showed just how much Madonsela's sword is her soul. In this soul samurai's world of rights activism, truth telling has a liberating potency. For her, philosophy and belief chisel the spirit and thus prepare it for the battles of life.

Beyond the report's minutiae – the text and phone records, the GPS location data – lay the horror of the age: the possibility that her life's work lay in ruins.

Beyond the report's minutiae – the text and phone records, the GPS location data – lay the horror of the age: the possibility that her life's work lay in ruins. Beyond the report's fixers (arms trader Fana Hlongwane), crying CEOs (disgraced Eskom CEO Brian Molefe) and fallen heroes, this report was devastating in its implications for everyone. Everything to which she had given her efforts – the dreams and visions of a just society – had failed. South Africa's democratic project lay broken like a child's toy right there before her eyes amid the documents on her desk. Before her was her nightmare: proof, as it were, of her own failure. A truly democratic South Africa now seemed like a mirage.

Flashbacks must have filled her mind: the rapture in the streets as Nelson Mandela had walked out of prison, one hand holding Winnie's, the other a fist in the air; the exhilaration with which she had cast her first vote; the resistance that had driven her into Sun City prison. It must all have seemed surreal now. The old freedom songs were dying in the country's soul, and no new ones were rising up to replace them. The rich body of freedom-struggle lore sounded, now, like nothing more than a fable.

We need to sing again, she must have thought. This place without song is lonelier than the prison cells of Johannesburg, full of sisterhood, solidarity and defiance of tyranny.

At the root of every one of the thousands of reports that Madonsela concluded during her tenure is a poor person paying the terrible price of misappropriated state revenue.

The media may have had a field day heralding the victory of Thuli Madonsela over her foes, but no right-thinking South African or democrat could glean anything to celebrate from the irrefutable evidence that the ruling elite, or sections of it, had operated with powerful private commercial interests to manipulate policy away from the dispossessed. No one could celebrate that, as a consequence, the state had become trapped in a low-growth path and excruciating policy paralysis, condemning the current generation as the policy and institutional reforms for improving governance ran aground.

Madonsela's office had, for seven years, been dealing with the social consequences of this untenable arrangement. It had bred social scourges such as pit latrines at schools for children to drown in. At the root of every one of the thousands of reports that Madonsela concluded during her tenure is a poor person paying the terrible price of misappropriated state revenue.

***

The very term 'state capture' has its origin in World Bank and IMF theorising about economies and societies in transition. There is no doubt that South Africa is in transition, like many eastern European and African countries in which the tendency for private interests to hijack the state has come to the fore.

When asked what ordinary citizens can do about a state that tears up the rule book, Madonsela's eyes widened. 'You must organise civil society to rise,' she responded.

One thing is for sure, however. Perhaps prophetically, Madonsela said in a media interview about her life after her tenure: 'In a developing country some still don't have electricity or decent food to eat. These vast differences are causing rifts between us. A hungry person is an angry person.'

** This is an extract from "No Longer Whispering To Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela". It is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers and written by journalist Thandeka Gqubule.