South Africa's search for successor to revered public protector grips the nation
Thuli Madonsela’s seven-year term as ombudsman is set to expire, and her replacement will have a hard act to follow.
n a country that loves its reality shows, a very public competition is attracting record audiences. It does not involve a wedding or a singing child; there is no dancing and no mascara. There is, however, a celebrity: Thuli Madonsela.
Appointed as South Africa’s constitutionally mandated public ombudsman – officially known as the public protector – in 2009, Madonsela has become one of the country’s best loved and most admired figures. But her seven-year non-renewable term will expire within weeks, and the South African parliament will choose her replacement next week. The search for candidates has gripped the nation.
Parliamentary hearings have received blanket coverage. Supposed revelations about those hoping to replace Madonsela have made front pages. “Who will protect us?” ran one headline in the Sunday Times newspaper.
Established at the end of the apartheid era by South Africa’s new constitution, the role of public protector carries extensive powers to hold politicians, officials and others to account on behalf of the weak, poor, ignorant or simply angry.
Political analysts in South Africa, where elected and unelected officials are routinely accused of corruption and other abuses, say the appointment is one of the most important decisions that MPs make.
“The stakes are really very high. It is the person who fills the office which is important, not the office itself,” said Gareth Evans, a governance expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
Penelope Andrews, a respected South African legal scholar, described the office of the public protector as “the barometer of the state of South Africa’s constitutional democracy”.