Did Madonsela compromise her office by addressing a political (DA’s) event?

There have been calls by some that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela should resign/be sacked. This after she was accused by the ruling ANC of “rubbing shoulders” with DA when she addressed its Women’s Network event in Port Elizabeth this past Thursday during Women’s Day.

While the ANC saw this as “ill-considered” because she now opened her office to “perceptions of political bias” – it would seem it is only the ruling party that seems to hold such “perceptions” about the PP because she was invited to address a Women’s Network of an opposition party.

The ruling party says the PP needs to be “independent, impartial and to exercise her powers without fear or prejudice” as is constitutionally requested. But, it warns, attending and giving keynote addresses at such political events of political parties “has the potential to compromise these basic constitutional principles, which the Public Protector is enjoined to uphold and promote”. Given this perception of the PP’s “closeness to the [DA]” party,”, claimed the ruling party, “members of the public will be justified to ask
how she will in future treat complaints against the administrations under the DA”.

It is not clear which “members of the public” the ANC is referring to because as much as not all political parties represent the public, neither does the ruling party despite it being the governing party (but that’s a debate for another day, isn’t it?).

The ruling party accused the PP of not using “an impartial platform to pursue its public interaction with programme” given the significance of Women’s Day as a national event. As a result the public “will be reasonably suspicious of a head of a state institution supporting constitutional democracy electing to attend a political party-organised Women’s Day rally over an impartial government Women’s Day event”

But Madonsela denied claims that her independence has been or would be compromised. Through her spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi, she said her attending the DA’s event “was in fulfillment of her constitutional obligation of being accessible to all persons and communities as espoused [in] the Constitution”.

Madonsela said her attending the event such as this was incorporated into the national stakeholder consultative dialogue that she launched in July which included giving “special interest groups” opportunity to interact with her. She further emphasised that her speech was not politically-aligned as claimed by the ruling party (emphasis) but that it “focused on the constitutional promise to women and people of South Africa, and ensuring that the mechanisms are in place to assist the people to hold the State accountable”.

She said the “main thrust” of her speech was “on [her] role as one of the public accountability institutions”, adding that people were given the opportunity to asked questions and lodge complaints. “A lot of the complaints related to RDP housing challenges,” said Madonsela through her spokesperson.

She said people were encouraged to advise others to lodge RDP and other service delivery complaints, adding that she does not decline requests by community groups that require her services.

While I agree that no law bars Madonsela from addressing any event as long as it is not meant to paint or portray other parties – whether governing or not – in a bad way, it is important that she makes an informed decision whether to accept such invitations. She should also bear in mind that she will always be accused by some opportunists of being “bias” and all that non-sense.

What I do not agree with is calls by some – on the social networks specially – that she resigns or be sacked because her appearance at an opposition party’s event compromised her office and its independence. Those who say this speak as if her independence and impartiality would not have been brought into question had she accepted an invitation to address the ruling party event. So if the ANC really “supports” the PP’s National Stakeholder Consultative Dialogue, it should therefore trust her judgement – just as it has done with her reports on corruption and related investigations that her office had been asked to probe.

While I find the ANC questioning the PP wanting, I, however, agree with the party that in these PP events and many others that are to come – Madonsela should just “make sure that such initiatives are not open to abuse by political formations” not only by opposition parties but by the ruling party itself (as it now seems to have done) in order to “advance their political agenda” – whatever it is.

But as friend of mine noted just before publication of this article, it is indeed the PP’s “the intergrity of the public office that is in question rather than her right as an individual”.
Regards,
Akanyang Merementsi
Follow me on Twitter at @AkanyangM