A swimming pool. A cattle corral. An amphitheater. These are the sorts of ostensible “security upgrades” at Nkandla, the home of South African president Jacob Zuma, which filled the Public Protector’s report on the misuse of state funds. As Eden pointed out in a previous post, these salacious details spread through the South African media like a firestorm, leading to calls for President Zuma to resign—or at least pay back the money—and adding to the growing reputation of Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s “Public Protector“, an ombudsman-like position constitutionally charged with investigating improper government conduct.
Madonsela, who helped draft South Africa’s current constitution, was unanimously nominated by a National Assembly committee and appointed by President Zuma in 2009. Though as Public Protector she is unaffiliated with any political party, she was previously a member of the African National Congress, the party that has dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid. Her persistence in fighting corruption, though, seems to have come as a surprise to her former compatriots, who have resorted to personal attacks; the deputy defense minister, for example, recently accused her of being a CIA spy. In a country which has been repeatedly criticized for inadequately addressing corruption, Madonsela’s investigations into cabinet officials and the police commissioner have provided one of the few signs of accountability. Her report on the expenditures at Nkandla, which calls for President Zuma to make a partial repayment, is her highest-profile work thus far.
However, despite all the praise directed towards Madonsela—like inclusion in Time’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2014—the furor around “Nkandlagate” has revealed several severe limitations on the office of the Public Protector. Continue reading