Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thula Thuli, thula?

A letter the nation should be writing to the Public Protector.

Our Dearest Thuli Madonsela,

We hope we are forgiven for using the plural in the salutation and the impudence to address you in an open column. But we simply cannot imagine there being more than a handful of people who do not share deep admiration and gratitude for your courage.

We heard on the radio this week, some analyst predicting that your latest spat with the powers that be will be your last. In taking on number one, he implied, you were inviting as much of number two as you could have found at Cape Town airport and the city’s official buildings not so long ago. This was before your soothing reassurances at a media briefing this week and yes, we know! Yet another analyst with some provocative outburst to capture attention in the hope that he will not be overlooked when next some junior reporter is using his “dial-a-quote.”

Decades ago “analysts” were restricted either to those chemistry fellows with thick lensed spectacles hidden in basement laboratories, or were sectoral specialists in broking firms. Now you find them in economics, politics, law, international relations and many more; as if every fibre of our society needs half-baked analysing based on equally half-baked research of some highly suspect data. Whereas what this country really needs are more psychology analysts to identify, analyse and treat the growing number of psychopaths and sociopaths that are consistently in our faces, homes and wallets.

But even if we take that analyst’s prognosis with a pinch of salt, it was enough to jolt most of us out of pre-conscious morning slumber. Could the tilting of your sharp legal lance, albeit some may say in an overly polite and wary manner, at the highest in the land turn out to be Quixotic and the prelude to your swan song? And will this not be the final leap into autocracy and authoritarian rule?

And then you have those who feel you were too contrite. Okay, it was only one reader that received some prominence for this view in a letter to Times Live. Can anyone really know what that inner spark is that heroes like you have?

In the mist of all the clamouring chirps, the bouquets and the brickbats, the encouragements and the discouragements, the friends and the foes that surround you, is a human being that at times must experience the task as being very lonely and onerous.

It may help to realise that just as solidly behind you is that clich├ęd silent majority. Many may not even know of you and some only vaguely so. Whenever public servant misbehaviour is discussed, someone is bound to mention that “Thula Lady”, blissfully unaware of the ironic confusion of your name with that serene and nostalgic Zulu lullaby that silences infants.

It may be ironic, but not totally inappropriate. Often when we see your mild-mannered and soft spoken discourses in broadcast interviews, we are reminded of that memorable event many years ago; when Archbishop Desmond Tutu embraced and covered with his cloak a young man fleeing from burning tyres born by a frenzied mob. As a lawyer using law to stop the lawless, (albeit with a velvet glove) there is little difference between what you are doing and the bishop’s robe, or the reassuring lullaby.

What is perplexing is that in your on-going war against corruption and acquisitive terrorism, you had to be drawn into the whole Nkandla affair. The spending of about a R¼-billion rand on a presidential palace, homestead, compound, fortress, laager, kraal, or whatever palatable “security” spin one wants to use in the midst of abject poverty, chronically empty bellies, poor schools, and poorly resourced health facilities is so self-serving, ostentatious, outrageous, hypocritical, bizarrely ironic and so patently unfair that it surely must gather a momentum of its own, a civil protest on its own, and an inflammatory spark far greater than e-tolls or labour brokers – unless our priorities are distressingly warped.

Hypocrisy is a king with no clothes. There must come a time when even the child sees that.

At the very least, may this not divert your and your team’s efforts from the much bigger task of building an anti-corruption and anti-misappropriation wall out of the many bricks of lesser known but equally detestable misbehaviours. Those that make up the estimated R30bn loss to the public annually; those that you recently described as having reached crisis levels; those that make Transparency International rank us 69th out of 176 in global corruption perceptions, and those that go on unabated as evidenced in the latest Auditor General’s report. Despite President Zuma’s assurances, the corruption glass should never be only half empty.

At the same time and giving credit where credit is due, the constitution, the existence of your office and others, and the undeniable reality that exposure of corruption increases public perceptions of its pervasiveness do give some solace.

Even amongst us the grateful, there may be a few sceptics who will question your deeper motives. Let that not concern you. You are our Joan of Arc. History will treat you kindly. Whatever transpires, and whatever your future holds, your task is far from done, dear Thuli.

May you continue to sing your reassuring lullaby for years to come.

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