Public Protector Thuli Madonsela went to Wits to talk about her Nkandla report (is anybody talking about anything else?). To a hall of adoring students, she used the power of metaphor to say all the things she can’t say directly. Comrade Napoleon, get that snout out of the trough. By SIMON ALLISON.
Thuli Madonesela is a careful, fastidious woman. “I am cowardly,” she told the 350-odd students who gathered to hear her talk at Wits University on Thursday (there were another few hundred in a hastily-arranged overflow venue). “We can’t work in any way we can’t explain…we try to stay within the law and within the facts. That way we don’t worry about how we will explain ourselves, if we are taken to account.”
She doesn’t, in other words, say anything that she can’t prove. This methodology is evident throughout her report, and in all her subsequent utterances, where she has refrained from making any conclusions that are not supported by documentary evidence. This is why she is so reluctant to put too much blame squarely on Jacob Zuma’s shoulders. A typical example: “I didn’t say the President lied …I simply said the information he gave to Parliament was incorrect,” she said.
This doesn’t mean that the Public Protector does not have her own opinions on the issue, opinions which she found a way to make abundantly clear. “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space,” observed author Orson Scott Card, and rarely has he been proved more accurate.
Madonsela fell back on a classic metaphor which no one in her well-educated audience could fail to understand.
“George Orwell tells us about a community, pretty much like ours, but it’s a community of animals. These animals were enslaved by humans, and the humans made those animals work very hard. The humans never produced anything for themselves… but the humans ate all of the food and gave the animals very little. Over time, among the animals, leaders emerged that started to tell the animals that it’s not right to be oppressed by humans. We deserve not to starve while they are eating all the food. Those conversations kept happening over time in little circles until they reached a critical mass… one day the animals revolted and kicked the humans out of the farm.”
“When the animals then decided to govern their own farm, they created rules for themselves. These rules included all animals are equal, no animal should eat milk or eggs, no animal should sleep in a bed with sheets. It was going to be to each according to their ability, and each according to their needs. After a little while everyone was happy. The humans were gone.
“The animals that liberated most of the other animals were the pigs. After a period of time, the pigs started to feel that we liberated you, we deserve better, and after time the pigs started to eat more than the others…[the pigs] do all of the thinking, they do all of the coordination, they liberated the animals, they deserve to be fed better. And the rules started changing, imperceptibly overnight… It used to say all animals are equal, then suddenly, it said some are more equal than others.”
The Animal Farm reference was devastatingly applicable to South Africa’s current polity, with liberators-turned-tyrants, and Comrade Napoleon, chief of the pigs, with his snout firmly in the trough. As for the rest of us – well, we’re the other animals, wondering what happened to our glorious liberation.
As she told her story, the jam-packed Senate Hall – students crowding the aisles, hanging on every word – went deathly quiet. Everyone understood exactly what she was saying – and that there was no other way she could say it.
After her speech, the Public Protector was mobbed by students asking questions and taking photographs. If she was looking for a little bit of moral support, she didn’t struggle to find it here.
In answer to one of the questions, Madonsela offered a few words of advice for her future successor, whoever that may be. “Make decisions that are owned by you and your team. Also make decisions that will make you sleep well at night. You should never try to please everyone. You should just make sure that what you do is something you can live with.”
On today’s evidence – given the strength of the moral conviction which she clearly demonstrated – Thuli Madonsela had no trouble sleeping last night. Unlike Comrade Napoleon, we suspect. DM
Photo: Thuli Madonsela (Greg Nicolson)
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí