Pay the debt forward: Public Protector asks her peers
Expanding the frontiers of freedom and human dignity for others in our lifetime and for the next generation would be a perfect way to repay Sir Sydney, Lady Felicia Kentridge, Nelson Mandela and other lawyers who selflessly earned us freedom, Adv. Thuli Madonsela said at the weekend.
She was receiving the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award from the General Bar Council of South Africa in Cape Town.
Adv. Madonsela said these greats were fine products of an era of dreamers who saw beyond the discriminatory world they found themselves inhabiting and had a vision which went beyond human solidarity and social justice.
“The vision they had,” Adv. Madonsela said, “focused on creating a society where everyone’s potential is freed and lives improved, where all enjoyed all human rights and freedoms.”
She told the delegates that Mandela and others believed that the character of the state needed to realise this vision, was a state that would play a central role in transformation, with itself underpinned by the rule of law, ethical conduct, transparency, responsiveness and prioritisation of constitutional obligations.
The Public Protector added her office was a brainchild of a vision that included checks and balances to prevent excesses in state affairs, particularly regarding the conduct of the executive branch.
She said by being Mandela's compatriots and contemporaries, the Kentridges reminded us that President Mandela was not a lone traveller in his quest for an inclusive, just and democratic society adding other fellow travellers included legal luminaries such as Sir Sydney Kentridge, Lady Felicia Kentridge, Oliver Tambo, Shullamith Muller, Cissus Gool, Bram Fischer and Duma Nokwe.
Giving a background on her office Adv. Madonsela said her office was established as graft-buster on 18 June 1979 under the name Advocate-General and accounting to the state president.
Adv. Madonsela said the office underwent a metamorphosis in the later years that included the addition of maladministration powers and name Ombudsman in 1991, an expansion of ombudsman functions, the passing of the Public Protector Act and the enhanced powers to investigate, report and take appropriate remedial action.
“In your view,” the Public Protector asked, “despite the evolution of the foundational provisions of this office, do its remedial powers remain the same as that of its ancestor, the Advocate-General?”
The Public Protector added her team believed the current Constitution gave the office more teeth similar to their counterparts in Pakistan, Israel and Rwanda.
She advised that her office was outraged by the fact that the last word from the High Court has been that the powers are unclear and needed to be clarified by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Adv. Madonsela opined that an interpretation of the institution’s mandate that ignored the unprecedented Section 182 (1) (c) empowering her office to take appropriate remedial action, did not bode well for the Public Protector playing a meaningful role in strengthening and supporting constitutional democracy to deliver the society envisioned by Sir Sydney Kentridge, Lady Felicia Kentridge and other lawyers who fought for a more just and inclusive South Africa.
She called on lawyers to continue playing their part in expanding the frontiers of freedom and democracy as part of a civil society as Madiba, Sir and Lady Kentridge did.
The Public Protector regarded the award as the best she had ever received as it was a judgement from her peers.
“This award, “Adv. Madonsela said, “is a reward for the entire Public Protector staff as it’s them who make things happen.”