Marvelous Madonsela: Five cases that put the Public Protector in the spotlight

Since her appointment as Public Protector in 2009, Thuli Madonsela has become a key feature in many political discussions in South Africa. She was part of the team involved in drafting South Africa’s groundbreaking constitution, but since 2009 she’s become better known as the Public Protector. Thuli Madonsela has also become a key feature of many political discussions in South Africa. In April, Time magazine named her one the 100 most influential people in the world.

As Madonsela comes under fire from her political superiors over a disagreement concerning a little thing known as Nkandla, PONTSHO PILANE looks at five of Madonsela’s most prominent Public Protector cases.

  1.  Our first taste of Madonsela: The police leasing procurement saga

On 2 August 2010, Madonsela was asked to probe the R1,6-billion procurement of the lease for office accommodation for the South African Police Services after a Sunday Times investigation uncovered allegations of improper conduct and maladministration by SAPS National Commissioner Bheki Cele and the department of public works. For many South Africans, this investigation was the first introduction to the Public Protector as an institution.

Madonsela found then-Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Cele guilty of maladministration.

In her report, Madonsela recommended that remedial action be taken by the state to correct the wrongdoings of all involved. Cele was suspended from his position as the national police commissioner and Mahlangu-Nkabinde was sacked in the 2011 cabinet reshuffle.

 The Midvaal Saga

Also in 2011, a complaint against the Midvaal municipality, the only DA-run municipality in Gauteng province, was brought to the public protector’s attention. Among the complaints were questions concerning the municipality’s appointment of the same legal firm for 30 years, without going through the correct procedures. The same legal firm was alleged to have been awarded another tender by the municipality.

Madonsela’s report found that the municipality had breached financial and administrative policies, and had violated the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework. She recommended that the legal firm’s owner, Andre Odendaal, who was also a DA leader in Midvaal, be investigated by the Law Society of Northern Provinces.

Eleven months after her report however, Odendaal had yet to be preprimanded and allegations that Madonsela was “protecting” the DA surfaced. Madonsela admitted that she had failed to hand over the case to the law society.

 There are no heroes, except for Ms Madonsela.

On May 2012, a complaint by former National Consumer Commission (NCC) member Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi was made against trade and industry department (DTI) director general Lionel October.

The NCC is South Africa’s consumer watchdog and it is administratively located withing the trade and industry department. Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s allegations were about abuse of power, direct interference in matters concerning the NCC and harassment from October when she resisted.

Madonsela’s decision to probe into the NCC member’s complaint resulted in recoil from ANC MP John Jeffery who questioned Madonsela’s move. Jeffery believed that the matter between Mohlala-Mulaudzi and October was one for the labour court. In reply to Jeffrey, Madonsela stated that it is her, and her alone, who decides on what to probe.

“So if you think I was incorrect, Honourable Jeffery, it is not for you to call it, it is for a court of law.”

In her report, called There are No Heroes, Madonsela found that there was indeed an abuse of power and maladministration by October, which interrupted the operational independence of the NCC. She suggested that both parties sit down to clarify each other’s roles and other roles in which they may share within the administration of both the NCC and DTI.


In May 2013, foreign guests of the wedding of Vega Gupta landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base without going through customs and immigration. The guests were escorted out of the military airport by the Police Flying Squad and VIP Unit Protection cars. The Guptas, who are close allies of President Jacob Zuma, said they had permission to use Waterkloof.

In July 2013, the office of the public protector received a complaint from Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson and said it will assess the complaint. Although an investigation is still underway, Guptagate has generated a lot of public discussion.

In May this year, Madonsela subpoenaed an inter-ministerial task team set up to probe the Gupta landing. It was reported that the task team had been issued subpoenas after they have refused to cooperate with the Public Protector. Madonsela said a private hearing will be held with everyone from the task team in order to uncover what really happened.

 And of course, Nkandla.

Where does one begin with Nkandla? The Public Protector’s two-year investigation looked into the so-called “security upgrades” at President Jacob Zuma’s private homestead, Nkandla, paid for by the state

Madonsela’s report estimated the costs of the upgrade to be R246-million, but said they could be higher. The Public Protector found Zuma had violated the Executive Ethics Code by failing to cap state spending and also by unduly benefiting from it.

The report said that Zuma must pay for the non-security upgrades that were made to his home. These include a visitors’ centre, an amphitheatre, a chicken run, extensive paving and the infamous “fire pool”.

Referring to these recommendations by the Public Protector, Julius Malema asked the President when he will be paying back the money of his home during President Zuma’s question time in Parliament.

With much fuel from the ANC camp, Madonsela has once again come under fire over this report.

Madonsela’s calm demeanor and impartiality have impressed South Africans (although not the ruling party) and #ThuliforPresident has become a common refrain online. But what does it say about our country and the quality of our public service when we fall over ourselves with praise at the sight of an official who does their job well?