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Double serving: Two Public Protectors wow at SU Social Justice Lecture
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 22/02/2024

​At the end of their conversation during the 5th Annual Social Justice Lecture the two formidable women on the Adam Small Theatre stage received a well-deserved standing ovation.

While taking questions from the former Public Protector, Prof Thuli Madonsela, South Africa's incumbent Public Protector advocate Kholeka Gcaleka remarked on the “historic privilege" of sharing a stage with Madonsela, currently Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) at Stellenbosch University (SU). 

“It's on your courage and broad shoulders that we still stand as the Public Protector," Gcaleka said.

The theme of courage to stand up against injustice and corruption came through prominently in Gcaleka's inspiring lecture. 

Hosted by the CSJ at the Faculty of Law, Monday's (20 February) prestigious Annual Social Justice Lecture attracted a diverse audience of more than 300. Gcaleka offered considerable food for thought in her speech titled “Social justice, an antidote to poverty: 30 years into democracy, what still needs to be done?" 

The Public Protector was welcomed by SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers. “At Stellenbosch University, we have made a commitment to be a force for good in the transformation of South Africa into a place of opportunity for all, a place of shared prosperity and a place where there is sustainable peaceful coexistence," De Villiers said. He thanked Madonsela and her team at the CSJ for their important work in advancing social justice in the interest of sustainable economic and social well-being and peace. 

Gcaleka echoed this sentiment and emphasised that social justice is not just a moral imperative but is deeply interwoven with the nation's journey towards reconciliation, inclusivity, and sustainable development. 

Citizen-centred governance  

Highlighting South Africa's constitutional commitment to social justice and democracy, Gcaleka underscored the importance of evaluating the role of institutions like the Public Protector over the past 30 years, especially in the context of persistent socio-economic disparities. She explained the need to confront the underlying causes of poverty and inequality such as corruption, poor governance, and ineffective service delivery. 

High levels of poverty and inequality are an antithesis to the quest for social justice, Gcaleka said. “These are also causes for ethnic and racial strife. Moreover, they undermine the quest for social justice, and therefore nation-building. Left unattended, they could lead to the maturation of risks that could undermine both the social and democratic order." 

To address challenges, the Public Protector emphasised the importance of citizen-centred governance, promoting transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement in decision-making processes. Citizen-centred approaches aim to improve government services, enhance consistency between citizen expectations and government policy, and ultimately build trust between citizens and government institutions. 

Gcaleka said much still needs to be done to undo the success that state capturers had in corrupting the political system through the placement of loyal individuals in important roles, hindering law enforcement and involving key members in corrupt activities. 

“The main priorities now must necessarily be to restore political governance and accountability as we make technical improvements and rebuild state capability while fighting corruption. To rebuild our public services, it is imperative that we do several things. Among those is to review the appointment and dismissal procedures of accounting officers and remove politics from the processes." 

To enhance its effectiveness, the Public Protector's office has allocated funds to upskill its workforce and proposed amendments to enforce remedial actions through criminalisation. A more positive response from state institutions to remedial recommendations is crucial for implementing reforms and strengthening governance to promote economic growth and job creation, Gcaleka pointed out. 

She said she measured the success of the Public Protector in the difference that her Office makes in the lives of ordinary South Africans. “While all constitutional checks and balances are important, it is critical to mention that it should not be left to the state to ensure that we have a living Constitution capable of accommodating our collective dreams and aspirations as a nation. It must also be understood that development should be the pursuit of everyone, with the state primarily acting as an enabler and regulator." 

Gcaleka stressed that positive experiences of government among citizens are essential for fostering trust and ensuring that the state fulfils its mandate of social justice. She ended her address in Afrikaans: “God seën Stellenbosch en die res van onse land." (God bless Stellenbosch and the rest of our country.) 

Teaching children about anti-corruption 

Responding to Madonsela's question on what ordinary people can do to build an ethical state, Gcaleka said people need to be courageous. “Those who are corrupt and those who function through malfeasance do so courageously. Now, we can't face this with cowardice. We need to educate children from a young age. In fact, we need to start reading books about anti-corruption to children to ensure that our educational system is centred around ethics and human character." 

South Africans need to return to the basics of Ubuntu, she said. “The principle of Ubuntu centres around the human character. 'Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you headed as a human being?' For me, that's where it really needs to start." 

She also urged a return to a value system rooted in families. “We need to support and encourage a value system which derives from a family. If we don't start there, we won't get to where we want to be," Gcaleka stressed. 

In her concluding remarks Madonsela said it was a privilege to see a young Public Protector taking the baton with such seriousness and dedication. “That baton is about serving people without fear or favour," she added. 

“As Nelson Mandela said, it is in our hands and it is exactly what the Public Protector reminded us tonight. We have a Constitution that points the way. We have to make sure there's integrity in government. But we also have to make sure that we lift the things that we ourselves can lift. Without social justice, we can forget about stability, and we can forget about social cohesion. But more importantly, we can forget about public trust." 

Madonsela pledged that SU will make sure that students understand what the Office of the Public Protector does. “We also go into communities to spread this gospel that says we have the power to decide who will govern us and they have to be people of integrity. And we have the power and responsibility to do the rest," Madonsela said. 

  • The Social Justice Lecture was facilitated by Ashraf Garda and attended by senior SU representatives such as the Chair of Council Dr Nicky Newton-King. Notable guests included Ambassador Håkan Juholt from Sweden; Elita de Klerk, representing the De Klerk Foundation; academic and economist Khaya Sithole; Phelisa Nkomo (economist & former CEO of the Gender Commission), Michiel le Roux (founder of Capitec); Futhi Mtoba (Nelson Mandela Foundation Board Member); Wayne Duvenage (CEO, OUTA); Waseem Carrim (CEO, National Youth Development Agency); advocate Xolisile Maduna (Head of litigation, SARS); and Vuyiswa Ramokgopa (Rise Mzansi National Chairperson and Gauteng Premier candidate). 

PHOTO: Marcel Kok