The future of South Africa and the dignity of its citizens mean everything to Thuli Madonsela. She knew this from a young age and she even turned down a scholarship to Harvard because it was more important at that time in her life to help draft the country’s Constitution.
She went on to become the country’s top corruption fighter; and the sacrifices never stopped. She now faces outsized expectations from a public that follows her every move. She battles criticism from powerful people and attacks on her own integrity.
Her perseverance and ability to tirelessly pursue one of the world’s toughest battles have made her a hero for many. This is why Transparency International has chosen to give her its Integrity Award for 2014.
Transparency International created the Integrity Awards to recognise the courage and determination of the many individuals and organisations confronting corruption around the world, often at great personal risk.
Launched in 2000, the Integrity Awards have honoured remarkable individuals and organisations worldwide including journalists, public officials and civil society leaders. The list of their achievements is humbling. Among them past winners have toppled a corrupt government official in China, prosecuted over a thousand members of a criminal network in Peru, shed light on an allegedly crooked arms deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia and stamped out counterfeit drugs in Nigeria.
Integrity Awards winners inspire the anti-corruption movement because their actions echo a common message: corruption can be challenged. This year’s winner is no exception. Described as "South Africa’s most important bulwark against corruption", Madonsela simply will not allow the corrupt to get away with it.
Speaking truth to power
Thuli Madonsela does not hesitate to speak truth to power. In office since 2009, South Africa’s courageous Public Protector has investigated claims of corruption at the very highest levels of government without fear or favour, earning the admiration of South Africans as well as the international community.
The Public Protector’s dedication to fighting the abuse of power reaches far beyond the cases that hit the headlines – Madonsela’s office dealt with over 35,000 complaints in 2012/13 alone. In spite of financial constraints, she’s known for looking into allegations of corruption that hurt the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in South Africa, as well as for working closely with civil society.
Her most high-profile work to date is an investigation of the South African President’s alleged use of taxpayers’ money to purchase home improvements worth millions of dollars to his personal residence at Nkandla. In a hard-hitting report released in March 2014, Madonsela recommended that President Jacob Zuma apologise and pay back a reasonable portion of the money spent on refurbishments not related to security.
Amid the controversy and immense pressure that arose after the publication of the report, Madonsela remains steadfast in her resolve to clean up government.
'A shining star to South Africans'
Transparency International’s Integrity Awards Committee received a record-breaking 127 nominations for the Integrity Awards in 2014, reinforcing our belief that there is a need to celebrate the many heroes of the fight against corruption.
Among these were multiple nominations for Madonsela from members of the South African public. One described her "a shining star to many South Africans," another wrote that she "has worked tirelessly and under immense public and political scrutiny" and "stuck to her guns". "Bravery, determination and integrity" were the words a third used to sum up Madonsela. The Public Protector’s unwavering commitment to a fairer and more democratic South Africa serves as an inspiration to corruption fighters everywhere.
Madonsela received her award at a ceremony in Berlin on October 17th 2014, attended by Transparency International’s members from around the world.
Transparency International is grateful to Veracity Worldwide for their generous due diligence support of the 2014 Integrity Awards.
Read our Q+A with Thuli Madonsela here.
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