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The Unstoppable Force Named Thuli Madonsela



An uneasy quietness permeates the Public Protector’s office in Pretoria, South Africa. Where ever we go, including the bathroom, there’s an escort lurking, keys in hand.

The usher apologizes for the tight security.

The staff are clearly on high alert following shocking revelations of an assassination plot against the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela.

When Madonsela appears, I expect the same tension but it immediately becomes clear that drama is around her, not within.

Yes, she is reserved but one could say it’s her personality. The advocate is dressed in figure-hugging blue jeans, and her Zen voice and sophisticated demeanour draws you in.

It’s not surprising that someone would threaten her life. After all, she has ruffled some very powerful feathers. No case is too big, small or dangerous for her. She was recently tipped off by a whistle-blower that a gang boss in Cape Town has paid three hit men R740,000 ($47,000) to kill her and make it seem like a car accident. Madonsela says she has no reason to doubt this and takes it very seriously.

“It’s because of my history with the whistle-blower that I have no reason to believe that she is not telling the truth. She says she saw the emails because she’s linked to the gangs from the community. She had given me information before that that turned out to be true,” Madonsela explains, no flicker of fear in her voice.

Her courage is understandable considering the women who have influenced her from a young age. Among them is anti-apartheid activist Victoria Mxenge, a lawyer who was a prominent member of the United Democratic Front. She became more politically active after the assassination of her husband Griffiths Mxenge.

“I never got to meet her but I went to her funeral. This is where I got to hear about this fearless lady who was a nurse and continued to study to become a lawyer. When her husband died, she didn’t shy away, she took over from where he’d left off and met the same violent death,” she explains.

Madonsela has an affinity with Victoria Mxenge. She too, could have been a nurse if her father had his way but she chose to study law.

“When I finished grade 10, my father arranged with a nursing sister who lived a block away from us to get a place for me at Baragwanath Hospital to study nursing. Everything had been arranged without consulting me. I was supposed to go there on a Monday, I refused,” she smiles.

Her father, who worked in the electrical industry, refused to part with a cent for her fees from that grade until university. Her mother, a domestic worker at the time, went all the way to Evelyn Baring High School in Swaziland to speak to her school principal to arrange her bursary. She finished high school through a church bursary and got a United Nations sponsorship for university.

“My father was the scariest man I had seen in my entire life. He had been brought up in the farms. He was really draconian. People were also scared of him but I think when you grow up as a child you eventually realize he’s not going to kill you,” she laughs.

“My first act of defiance was this one although it wasn’t meant to be an act of defiance, it was at the time when I had decided I wanted to be a lawyer, not a nurse.”

What influenced her to become a lawyer was the June 16 Soweto uprising; she was 15 at the time. She initially wanted to become a doctor as she was good at maths and science. People who saw her caring nature thought so too.

She chose law because she was convinced of its healing power. This was during apartheid when a lot of black people’s problems were with the law. They were being arrested because of the pass laws.

“Our cousins would be visiting us from other parts of the world and we would all be traumatized by the police knocking at night at our house and in the neighborhood. We would run around and hide in the cupboards and under the beds, some people would still be taken away. In fact, one of my cousins was taken away coming back from work. We heard they found him without a pass. There was a farm out there in Mpumalanga where they sent people to work for free. We never saw him we don’t know what happened to him till today.”


Humble Childhood

The advocate comes from humble beginnings in Dlamini, Soweto. Her father never saw the inside of a classroom but he taught himself to read and write. He pulled himself up by the bootstraps and bought a few cars which he used on weekends as long-distance taxis.

Her mother also had little education. She quit school and ran away from her adopted missionary family in pursuit of an alluring life she believed domestic workers had when she saw them in fancy clothes during December holidays. According to Madonsela, it’s a mistake she would later regret and wouldn’t allow her children to repeat.

“One thing she really drummed into our heads was education at the greatest level because she had the misfortune of meeting the child who was taken by the missionaries to fill her place. She had been educated, happily married and she was living a proper life,” she says.

Madonsela’s interest in fighting for people’s rights started early. When she was still studying in Swaziland, the late struggle veteran and African National Congress (ANC) stalwart Albertina Sisulu used to invite her over during the holidays. This is where she met her son, the late Zwelakhe Sisulu, who later introduced her to the National Union of Painters and Allied Workers Union (NUPAWU).

“He thought I could assist and they could use free labor but it was quite a lovely experience,” she chuckles.

Once she finished her degree, she worked with the union again as a legal advisor. Her first entry was to negotiate a transition from the pension fund to the provident fund. She then left and worked briefly in the construction industry as a legal advisor. From here, she joined the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) under the Center for Applied Legal Studies as a researcher and also teaching labor law and gender studies part-time. She was involved in the civic movement.

Madonsela was also involved in advising the ANC on the constitution. During the multi-party talks, they also assisted with research mostly on issues of equality, the bill of rights and land. She was also part of the 11 constitutional experts based in Cape Town.

Her knowledge of the constitution came in handy recently when opposition parties went to the Constitutional Court of South Africa asking the highest court in the land to clarify the powers of her office.

“It was important for me as a South African and as the leader of the team that whatever happens there, the powers of this office are properly understood. I think it was the right decision but there was so much attack that we should stay out of it and let other people define your powers, which was wrong. In fact, it’s normal that if litigation has got a touch on you that you’re included as a respondent,” explains Madonsela.

‘I Use Soft Power’

One would be forgiven for thinking the Public Protector’s office only pursues corruption cases. It is all that ever hits the front pages of newspapers. The bulk of her work comes from what she calls the Gogo (granny) Dlamini’s cases. This would be a pensioner whom the law has failed and has been sent from pillar to post.

“One of the cases I had to decide on was a rape victim who was sent from pillar to post for eight years and the case had been postponed more than 40 times. The sense as a team here is that it is not enough to say we’ve wronged you we will not do it again. Even if we don’t pay them enough money to rebuild their lives but there has to be a sense of compensation or consolation,” she says.

Regarding financial mismanagement, she believes for this democracy to thrive, the little money this country has must be used properly. If it’s not, there won’t be proper housing, quality health and education systems.

“As you can see now, 22 years into democracy, we’ve done well in that today is better than yesterday but we all agree that we could have done better. We had the means to do better but because of maladministration, corruption and misappropriation of public funds, the pace has been slower than it should have been,” says Madonsela.

What was to be the fight of her life, since she took office in 2009, was her investigation of South African President Jacob Zuma’s estimated R246 million (approx. $15.7 million as per current exchange rate) public spending on the security upgrades of his home in Nkandla in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. The president claims to have raised a loan of R800,000 ($51,000) for part of these renovations. Many would have shivered and shied away from such a delicate case but Madonsela rolled up her sleeves. She admits such cases need a fine balancing act.

“What I’ve done with all of these cases is to do expectations management, I use soft power. I think Nkandla is a sad case where soft power conversations didn’t work,” says Madonsela.

By ‘soft’, she means calling people to her office, make them tea and politely reminding them of what the law stipulates. She often points out these are the rules that they as government have made. She is only there to enforce the laws and in doing so has to be consistent. She says in most cases they understand that it’s not personal.

“I think with this case, we didn’t see it coming, we honestly thought that it was one of the easy ones where one can say yes we made a mistake but we can fix it. You can recall we didn’t even say that someone must decide how much must be paid, we said somebody must ‘advise’ on how much should be paid. It was crafted in such a way that compliance was made easy,” she adds.

“Regardless of what people think of me and my team, we do put ourselves in the shoes of people we judge. The story is not just about the money, it was a story about excesses, privileges for those who are employed by government and what we wanted was to stop the rot more than to recover that money. The idea was not to cripple the person because we know that the president is not a business person, he is an employee of the state, based on what he has disclosed, he doesn’t appear to be rich, so the idea was to pay what is reasonable.”

Sometimes when a big story breaks, her heart sinks and prays: ‘please God, not me’.

Madonsela was raised by spiritual parents. Her mother was brought up a 7th-day Adventist and her father a Methodist lay preacher.

“We grew up in an environment where we were expected to read the Bible every day, listen to short stories on the radio or religious services,” she explains.


Most Influential

She also drew lessons and inspiration from women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey, Priscilla Jana (a fearless lawyer), Charlotte Maxeke and Olive Schreiner.

“Olive Shreiner, she wasn’t a lawyer, but she is the person who made it possible for us women lawyers to become lawyers because initially the law society didn’t want us to become lawyers saying that we don’t have the necessary demeanour. Women are most suited for babies and cooking, this court decision was made in 1923.”

In 2014, TIME included her in its prestigious 100 Most Influential People list. In it, Lamido Sanusi, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, called her “an inspirational example of what African public officers need to be”.

“When I was first told, I wasn’t even here, my team sent me an email to that effect and I thought ‘no, it’s a joke, it’s one of those 419 scams’. I honestly didn’t feel I was among the 100 influential people in the world,” says Madonsela.

Despite her hectic schedule and the expectations placed on her, she begins her day at 3AM with meditation. She spends her free time with her children or reading. Once a year, she goes to the cinema or theater. What she misses lately are her weekend walks with friends. Those have been suspended because of the alleged hit on her.

She is active on Twitter, mostly posting inspirational messages.

“When I meditate and find something inspirational that anchors my thoughts I share it with people. I find that they respond positively. They would say I spoke to what they were dealing with that day. I would share it because it talked to my soul and what I was struggling with on that morning.”

With her tenure in office coming to an end in September, some would like her to be the country’s president. What did she think of it?

“That is sweet of them but I don’t believe that if you’re good at one thing you’ll automatically be good in politics,” she answers.

Madonsela has a light side to her too. She has an eye for aesthetics and fashion. As a child, she used to draw patterns and sew her own clothes; this is the one thing she plans to return to when she leaves office and turn into a business.

She already has big plans. She will be going back full-time to the bar as an advocate in the high court, at the same time teaching law. She has been approached by several universities; she still needs to choose what will be best for her. She also plans to do civic work again and continue to play a part in expanding social justice, particularly for women and people with disabilities, whilst promoting racial reconciliation.

Next year, she will be writing two books, one her story, and another on administrative law, with the aim of making the work of the Public Protector better understood.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation



Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.

As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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Current Affairs

Roadmap For African Startups



Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.

Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?

There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.

A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.

READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.

There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.

In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.

There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?

After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.

At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.

Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Picture: Supplied

The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment  mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices. 

In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell: Africa Is One Of The Leading Continents In The World

What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?

The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.

From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.

While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.

READ MORE | Why Now Is The Time To Invest In African E-commerce

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Current Affairs

Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future



With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.

Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.

Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.

READ MORE | The Most Sustainable Companies In 2019

Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.

“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.

An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.

Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.

The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable. 

“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.

A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.

“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily  have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.

“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”

READ MORE | Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.

According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.

Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.

The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.

It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.

-Buhle Ntusi

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