Thuli Madonsela Legacy: Lessons of a Good Public Servant


Adv Thuli Madonsela

Former Public Protector, Adv. Thuli Madonsela delivered her inaugural Good Governance lecture on 1st November 2016 at the St George’s Hotel. The lecture was hosted by the University Of Pretoria’s Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) and sponsored by Women Investment Portfolio Holdings (Wiphold).

Although her legacy speaks to issues of good governance and upholding the tenets of our constitution, today I want to share my sense of the lessons that she leaves for women and girls in particular.

There is no doubt that our public and private institutions are beset by the chaos of maladministration and bad governance. The chaos affects us all but it is always women and children who are more disadvantaged by dysfunctional institutions. We suffer more when those in power serve their own interests and public service is compromised. It is not only a matter of inconvenience; it is sometimes literally a matter of life and death.

In short, we are a society with a leadership deficit. We are in dire need of ethical and transformational leaders like never before. And when we do find people that embody those qualities, it is only prudent that we recognize them and showcase them as positive role models for society to emulate. As the master of ceremonies emphasized at lecture, “Motho o lebogwa a sa phela – A person is honored/thanked while still alive”.

On a more practical and personal note, I am proud that Sis Thuli as she is fondly called, serves as a positive role model to young women. Like all of us, Sis Thuli is not a hero or a saint. It is indeed her ordinariness that has endeared her to many of us because we can identify with her. What sets her apart though, was her unrelenting courage to stand up for what is right, holding office bearers accountable and speaking truth to power without cringing.

She pushed through the vitriol and violence of patriarchy that undermined her, mocked her looks, and sought to discredit her at every turn and even labeled her a spy. Yet this black, competent woman soldiered on and focused on the mandate before her: to protect the public.

She decided to be a good public servant and execute her role to the best of her ability – without fear or favour. She taught us to be brave and passionate!

She stood up to protect herself as well when she duly told Michael Hulley “I will not be bullied by you Sir”. That was a Viva moment! I say this because as women, and black women in particular, there is a sense that we have to constantly jump through hoops of fire to prove ourselves as society unrelentingly seeks to “put us back in our place”.

She taught us that leadership does not always have a loud boisterous voice or wear an air of self-importance. She demonstrated well that modesty is also an effective leadership tool. We learnt that we don’t have to copy popular notions of leadership, when being our authentic selves can serve us better.

I observed how since her tenure, the whole nation kept silent when she spoke. We became silent because we knew she had an important message to share and we valued her input. Moreover her soft tone forced good virtues out of us: Attention and Patience. This is not easy anymore in the sea of competing din of voices that constantly echo and demand our attention.

She taught us that our voices matter and that people would listen when we refuse to be unduly silenced. The annals of our history will revere her example that women can lead effectively and with integrity even against odds.

We can all take a leaf out of Sis Thuli’s book.

God bless Afrika!


Pearl Pebetse


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