Advise with integrity: Public Protector tells global lawyers

Whispering and speaking truth to power regardless of the risk of being thrown out of the circle of trust, is what all lawyers need, to play their part in fostering the rule of law, good governance and peaceful coexistence in communities and the world, Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela said at the weekend.

Addressing the Faith and Law Around the Globe (FLAG) convocation in Limpopo, Adv. Madonsela warned the legal profession against telling those entrusted with power, particularly public power and resources what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear

Adv. Madonsela said this was in no way different from aiding and abetting wrongdoing which she referred to as giving a ride to a scorpion with the hope it won’t eventually sting you, a metaphor she compared the common one about feeding a crocodile with a hope that it will eat you last.

She told delegates who descended on Legend Golf safari lodge that the world we yearned for rested on them walking with integrity and offering advises that were conscionable and not about winning or offering what people wanted to hear.

Adv. Madonsela used her personal experience to warn lawyers drawn from countries such as Egypt, India, Singapore, Canada, the US and Korea that in their quest to advise on justice, ethics or proper conduct or whisper truth to power, they risked being thrown out of a circle of trust.

She advised them that they should take comfort in the fact that when you tell the truth or advise with integrity, events eventually unfold to prove you right and that the powers that be come back to thank you for advising them honestly. The Public Protector told delegates that even in the event that they were to find themselves out of the circle of trust perpetually, they should be comforted by the fact that history is likely to be on their side and that they played their role the best they could to create the world they want to live in.

Adv. Madonsela further assured her colleagues from the faith community that they should also be comforted by the fact that they can enjoy a peace of mind that comes with being in integrity with their own values.

The Public Protector reminded her colleagues the call to be a lawyer or an advocate was originally meant to be for the ones who promote justice, peace and mediate power imbalances by advising on law making, the interpretation of laws and pleading the cases of those finding themselves in conflict with the law to facilitate peaceful coexistence among human beings. She said many lawyers continue to do just that.

She also alluded to lawyers who throughout history have used their professional knowledge and skills to help the oppressed push back against oppression and to combat excesses in the exercise of state power.

The Public Protector noted that South Africa had a rich history of great lawyers who consistently spoke truth to power and dedicated their lives, often at great cost, to bridging the gap between law and justice.

In this regard, she paid tribute to renowned iconic lawyers such as Pixley ka Seme, Bram Fischer, Shulamith Muller, Oliver Tambo, George Bizos, Cissie Gool, Nelson Mandela and Priscila Jana, who used their legal knowledge and skills to combat unfair and unjust race based social stratification or hierarchical ordering of society and related oppressive and exploitative excesses in the exercise of state power during apartheid.

Among iconic actions of speaking truth to power by lawyers, Adv. Madonsela also mentioned the courageous 1952 stand taken by the Appellate Division led by then Centlivrers, CJ, against Parliament for acting unconstitutionally in the manner in which it took away what was referred to as the “Coloured Vote”.

Adv. Madonsela drew parallels between the act of mediating power by the Chief Justice Centlivres and the Appellate Division in 1952 with recent similar action by the current South African Chief Justice Mogoeng and the Constitutional Court in the so called Nkandla matter.

The Public Protector opined that the Constitutional Court decision in the Nkandla matte was an act of lawyers sitting as judges taking a stand for the rule of law and giving a seminal judgement regarding the proper use of state power and resources and the provision of guidance on governance and public accountability as envisaged in the Constitution.

She said the judgement asserted the powers of her office and its role regarding protecting the public against excesses in the exercise of state power and control over public resources and preventing impunity. She added that she was encouraged that the Constitutional Court had authoritatively settled the debate regarding the binding nature of the decisions, including remedies of the public Protector in a manner that affirms the constitutional provisions in section 182 read with section 181 of the Constitution.

Adv. Madonsela metaphorically compared her office to a “Makhadzi” in the Vhenda whose role is to whisper truth to power and provide a voice to the people and eyes and ears to a wise king, like the original Swedish Ombudsman.

This institution (the Public Protector), Adv. Madonsela said it was more than just about protecting public from maladministration, corruption and other forms of improper conduct in state affairs but was also about healing broken relationships.

She referred to it as a reliable ‘safety valve’ or an outlet for people’s frustrations, that for effectiveness relied on trust, listening and action from government to repair incidences of service or conduct failure the Public Protector identified in its operations.

For more information contact:

Ms Kgalalelo Masibi
Spokesperson: Public Protector South Africa
Public Protector South Africa
012 366 7066
079 507 0399


Public Protector South Africa

Published Date: 
Monday, April 25, 2016