Someone in government must be throwing a celebratory party right now. They finally got her. They made Thuli Madonsela pay nearly half a million rand for a state-owned car that had been damaged in an accident not caused by her.
They got her to pay back the money, just like the EFF got the president to “pay back the money”. The new public protector must be celebrating. But should she?
You must have been living under a rock not to know the extent to which Madonsela single-handedly took on the administration. She performed her duties as public protector so well that by the time she left office a collective sigh of relief could be heard from the Union Buildings.
The public protector became the beacon of hope for our democracy. She did unpopular things against an administration that was so determined to protect the head of state at all costs. And that turned her into a target.
She was accused of being a CIA agent hellbent on destroying the government. But she shrugged that off and continued with the job of protecting citizens against the looting of public funds.
It was inevitable that when Busisiwe Mkhwebane took over she would be compared to her predecessor. Would she display the same bravery that put Madonsela in the firing line or would she want to curry favour with her “employers”?
Although too early to tell, it has become quite clear that she is determined to make Madonsela pay for taking the errant public servants to task during her reign. The most obvious way to make her pay early on was a blatant disregard for her work, failing to acknowledge what Thuli had done or what she had achieved before her term ended.
So a report such as the Absa one, that must have taken a couple of years’ work from Madonsela, was suddenly released into the public space without any acknowledgment of who had done the real work.
It’s quite probable that the report was also released simply to say to the public, your heroine of a public protector is not all you thought she was. She had a side you wouldn’t like.
But the pain inflicted on Madonsela had to be taken to a personal level. What better way to make her feel it than hitting her where it hurts most, in her pocket? Surely there are rules that determine the costs regarding the repair of state cars that are damaged while in the care of public servants.
Madonsela could not and should not have been the sole arbiter of who pays for the damage her son caused to a vehicle belonging to the state. When a determination was made that she should not be responsible for the actions of her adult son, that wasn’t her decision but that of a different leg of government.
But Thuli had made enemies in high places and had to be made to pay for her “sins”. Small wonder then that the people celebrating the current public protector’s decision to withhold a portion of Madonsela’s pension payout are the current administration’s praise singers, with the ANC Women’s League leading the chorus.
There is no doubt that she is being made to pay for holding people to account, rather than a damaged car. The focus for the new public protector must move from settling old scores with her predecessor to outdoing her predecessor.