South Africa: Madonsela Wants Public to Protect Her Office

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said she would go to court to deal with attacks on her office in reaction to her report on security upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home, only “under extreme circumstances”.

This is because she believed that the people of South Africa had to protect the office [of the public protector], she told reporters in Pretoria on Monday.

“It’s not my office, I’m in this office temporarily like any other public protector. If the people of South Africa feel… that the Constitution is being trampled on, that personal feelings about people are determining how people are conducting themselves, let the people do something about it.”

However, Madonsela said she did not want to leave the office of the public protector weaker constitutionally.

This was why she had called a media briefing to respond to Parliament’s decision not to allow her to address them on Nkandla.

On Thursday evening, Parliament’s Nkandla ad hoc committee used its ANC majority to vote against calling Madonsela to be questioned about her report into the R246m upgrades to Zuma’s home.

In her report, released in March 2014, Madonsela recommended that Zuma repay a reasonable amount of the money spent on non-security related features, like the swimming pool, visitor’s centre, cattle kraal, chicken run, and amphitheatre.

In his own report, released on May 28 this year, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko found that all those features were necessary for Zuma’s security and he did not have to pay a cent for them.

Madonsela said Zuma misinterpreted her recommendations when he appointed Nhleko to compile a separate report. She said Zuma, with the help of the Treasury and police, had to determine how much he should pay back for the non-security features.

Madonsela used Monday’s media briefing to address National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and MPs.

“I’m deeply saddened by the fact that I have to use the media as a platform to address you.

“I am further convinced, honourable Speaker, that this mechanism of engagement is not the one that was envisaged by the architects of our constitutional democracy, nor the mechanisms used between legislatures and public protector-like institutions across the globe.”

She said in the 20 years of the public protector’s existence, it had never received such “vitriolic attacks” as it did after the Nkandla report.

Attacks on Public Protector

Addressing the ad hoc committee on Thursday, ANC MP and chairperson of the portfolio committee on justice Mathole Motshekga said Madonsela had misled South Africa about Nkandla.

“We should not, and cannot, apologise when we say the report of the public protector is misleading and has misled the nation,” he said.

Madonsela said the attacks on her office and the report had been vague.

“As the attacks are unleashed by all and sundry, including spokespersons of the governing party in and outside Parliament, without reference to specific offensive extracts from the report in question or the laws and related prescripts it seeks to enforce, I have wondered what would have President [Nelson] Mandela made of this bizarre turn of events,” she said.

Madonsela said she was addressing Mbete through the media because she hoped that through statements such as “the public protector is governing herself”, “she issues her reports to the public instead of Parliament” and “the public protector misled the nation” would not feature in the National Assembly.

Madonsela argued that all Chapter Nine institutions had to be treated the same and just as Parliament could not review or re-investigate the auditor general’s reports, the same should apply to her office.

“Honourable Speaker, you must agree with me that in view of the establishment clause for the public protector being the same one for the auditor general, Electoral Commission and the others, there’s no additional or special accountability for the public protector above section 182(5) of the Constitution which regulates accountability for all of the Chapter Nine institutions.”

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