Meet our 2016 Global Leader, Thuli Madonsela

Thuli Madonsela is a human rights advocate and the first woman to have served as South Africa’s Public Protector. Dubbed as one of Time magazine’s most influential people in 2014, she is popularly known for her fearless fight against corruption in South Africa, specifically for her investigation into the misuse of state funds.

Thuli is also the Chairperson of the African Ombudsman Research Centre in Durban, South Africa, leveraging the power of her office to promote effective governance. She has been awarded the prestigious 2014 Integrity Award by Transparency International among many others. This year, she has been named a Tällberg Foundation Global Leader, along with Eleni Antoniadou, Christiana Figueres, Celina de Sola, and Sunitha Krishnan. Thuli recently shared her views about her life, her work and vision for the future.

What drives you?

What has driven me has been a sense of gratitude, a sense of having been given the privilege of being educated, and being welcomed into spaces where I can make a difference. In a country like South Africa, or in the world generally, those of us who have been given an education and positions in society tend to carry the hopes and dreams of others. And because, I have been blessed, I want to pass on that blessing to others.

You have said before that ‘your best contribution as a human being would not be a politician’. Where does that statement come from?

I value politicians and politics. I have supported them {politicians} as an adviser. I was given an opportunity to go to parliament in 1994, a very straight line to go there, not a competitive process. It is a personal choice about my skills, my passion, and the contribution I could make. For as long as I can remember the contribution I have made has been to advise others to do the right thing, and then also to adjudicate, or, where possible, to conciliate and mediate to get people do the right thing. That has been since before I qualified as a lawyer. Even after I qualified as a lawyer I worked for free because it just gave me joy. I think I come alive when I assist people to ensure justice. I also think that if we want a world that is peaceful then justice, particularly social justice is something that we must all work for.

Why is corruption increasing, and what needs to be done about it?

As part of the global community against corruption and our local community against corruption, we have identified several fault lines. The one fault line is prevention, the need to teach or inculcate ethics from childhood to adulthood. It’s not enough to tell people to behave ethically, to put people first and not themselves first. Once they are already in government, those values should have been inculcated when they were still in school. And if we inculcate those values even when people choose others who have to govern them, they will think about what kind of a person should go into government. It should be somebody who is ethical, it should be somebody who puts the people first, because they are going to be put in a position of trust. The public won’t be aware of what they’re doing, they will only depend on the trust.

What do you consider your most important achievement to date?

I would say the most important achievement for me has been getting our society to understand that maladministration, improper conduct and corruption hurts. And it hurts the individual…it hurts society. As a society, we’ve always understood that crime hurts, and therefore, if I’m going to use mafia language, we all have “to go to the mattresses” against crime. It’s not always been clear to everyone that maladministration can hurt more than crime. It hurts not just individuals, it destroys systems, and it can destroy democracy and the dreams of an entire nation.