South Africa

Madonsela: ‘You don’t need to throw stones anymore’

By Greg Nicolson 11 May 2016

Burning schools is never justified. That was Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s message on Tuesday, speaking at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The threat of violence has gone beyond protest and into Madonsela’s life recently, but her message remains the same: we must pursue lawful, democratic means of confronting the country’s challenges. By GREG NICOLSON.

Speaking after the official launch of the Civics Academy at the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Tuesday evening, Thuli Madonsela was reluctant to comment on whether police are properly handling information she received that a gang boss has been paid R740,000 to arrange three hitmen to kill her. She said she’s spoken to police, but she appeared to doubt their operation and whether they are taking the issue seriously.

Madonsela said it seems the investigative protocol she thought would be followed might have gone in a different direction.

I really don’t know. I think the people we reported to thought there was a different standard operating protocol than what has since happened but I don’t really want to get into the security details,” she said. “I was just told that there were certain things that were happening. The way things have unfolded have been different. You will recall that over speaking to several media houses yesterday [we] said the response we got, at first it was taken seriously then a few hours later somebody from crime intelligence said this whistle blower has been wrong 95% of the time, only right 5% of the time and, ‘Don’t worry ma’am, don’t worry about it.’” Given the risks, she asked, “Who are you to decide that this is not the 5% of the time?”

This weekend The Sunday Times exposed information that Madonsela received from a police informant claiming a gang boss was paid R740,000 to hire three hitmen who would travel to Johannesburg and kill the public protector, making it look like a car accident. In her time in office, Madonsela has reported on corruption and maladministration regarding a number of high-placed officials and recently one of her reports led to a Constitutional Court finding against the president and National Assembly.

The acting police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane has said the threat is being taken seriously, but according to The Sunday Times he said he hadn’t heard about the allegations when the newspaper raised them.

On Tuesday, Madonsela responded to claims that she should have lodged a criminal case. “Well, I did not understand, why lay a charge, because we reported this matter immediately I got a text on the first April. The text was forwarded to the police. Beyond that I don’t know what else am I supposed to do. Of course the police have been seized with this matter since the first of April.”

The public protector said she has known of the threat for a month and while obviously concerned she seemed to have somewhat accepted it. “I have gotten to a point where I understand that this may be true or may not be true. Because an allegation is an allegation. As an investigator I always know that when there’s an allegation it may be true, it may not be true. Somebody may have overheard wrongly or they may have overheard rightly,” she said. “I’ve also come to terms with the fact that it may be true. Someone may be plotting something. Other than changing some of my movements, I’ve done nothing because we’re all going to die. It’s a question of when we are going to do it. But it’s one journey, one appointment that we all have.

The truth is every time you step out of your house or even if you sleep at your house there’s a possibility that something could kill you. It could be a plane that lands on your house and that could kill you.”

At the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Madonsela spoke on the importance of the former president’s struggles and young people demanding social justice. She likened the Constitution to a guiding star that could guide the country through its current challenges and said if people don’t understand the Constitution or aren’t even looking at it as a remedy they won’t have the guide to build on the work of those who took the country out of oppression.

It pains me and should pain all of us to witness a situation where some of our people still have not experienced the benefits of the second industrial revolution,” she said, sympathising with the anger of citizens. But she encouraged young people to do their part in taking the country forward. “Where do you come in as young people? Innovation,” said Madonsela. “We hear you. We know that you have all the right to be angry about social injustice that is not only experienced by you…

However, this is our country; it’s not someone else’s country,” she said. “Let’s not destroy our own infrastructure. You only destroy the infrastructure of our enemy. The 1976 generation were stone throwers, but you don’t need to throw stones anymore.”

She was speaking in light of protests in Vuwani, Limpopo, where a reported 20-odd schools have been burnt and another four damaged over a change in municipality demarcations. “The frustrations are real and also the frustrations of not being heard are real, [but] nothing could justify burning a school because you’re now depriving fellow students an opportunity to study and get out of poverty,” Madonsela said when asked about her comments.

That can’t be justified and I’m saying this mindful of the fact that there are frustrations, but I honestly believe there are means to express that frustration. They could do a sit-in at the municipality. There’s a whole lot of things. Let’s look at the Fees Must Fall movement. The majority of the universities did not break or burn anything. They did sit-ins. They did hashtags. They did a lot of noise that attracted attention and of course the lesson we’ve learnt is they have to try to listen before anything is broken and before anything is burnt, but the difficulty is once something has been burnt, with the money that was supposed to be advancing communities we have to build what has been broken or what has been burnt. That’s taking us backward.”

She was speaking at the launch of the Civics Academy, an online educational platform with information on democracy, governance, elections, political parties, the justice system, and the Constitution. It aims to increase civic education in South Africa and engage people on democratic means to confronting current challenges and charting a way forward to achieving the country’s goals. Recently, the Civics Academy held an event with 100 young people who scrutinised current assumptions and discussed how to protect and advance democracy.

Let us not forget the values as humans to humans,” said one of the participants, Nompumelelo Gumbi, 20, on Tuesday night. South Africa isn’t just for all who live in it, but for all who believe in it, she added. Recent events show that belief takes different forms and as both Madonsela and the Civics Academy say, civil engagement is more important than ever. DM

Photo: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela (Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick)

Gallery

In other news...

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