South Africa’s top anti-graft official who investigated a $23 million state-funded security upgrade to President Jacob Zuma’s private home was recognised on Friday with an award for tackling corruption.
Transparency International said Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela received the anti-graft watchdog’s Integrity Award for investigating corruption in the government, and working to help the country’s most marginalised and vulnerable communities.
Madonsela, named in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world this year, said corruption should not just be seen as a political issue.
“To succeed against corruption, South Africa needs more voices and action from civil society,” Madonsela told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Berlin, where she was due to receive her award later on Friday.
“When allegations of corruption are found to be true, money is rightfully restored to the development of our country and improving the quality of life of our people.”
Madonsela gained international attention in March when she released a report that said Zuma benefitted “unduly” from the security upgrade to his home that included a cattle enclosure, amphitheatre, chicken run and swimming pool.
The report, titled “Secure in Comfort”, said Zuma had failed to question the scale or opulence of the construction work, which would have raised the eyebrows of a “reasonable person”.
Madonsela said Zuma should pay back some of the money spent on the improvements to his rural Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal province. However, the president defended the upgrades and said accusations against him were unfair.
FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
Madonsela said she took no pride from her office’s high-profile investigations, citing her work with South African citizens in smaller cases that went unnoticed by the media as the highlight of her career.
“Many of the complaints that my office deal with involve whistleblowers who have been unfairly fired, or people who have been denied money that is rightfully theirs,” Madonsela said.
“I experience such joy when members of our society are reinstated to their jobs or paid back the money they are owed.”
JC Weliamuna, chair of TI’s Integrity Awards Committee, said Madonsela’s investigation of allegations of corruption at the highest levels of government showed true courage and commitment to upholding the rule of law.
“As Public Protector, she is making it much more difficult for the corrupt in South Africa to get away with it,” Weliamuna told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Despite the intense political and public scrutiny that she has been subjected to in recent months, she continues to stand firm and seek justice for all South Africans.”
The winners of last year’s award were investigative journalist Luo Changping and activist Rafael Marques de Morais, who were honoured for their efforts to unmask the corrupt in China and Angola respectively.