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Jonathan Ball

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No Longer Whispering to Power reminds us just how impactful a role Madonsela played in South African politics, writes Rebecca Davis

Author and journalist Rebecca Davis recently reviewed Thandeka Gqubule’s No Longer Whispering to Power for the Daily Maverick.

Gqubule’s book is about Thuli Madonsela’s tenure as Public Protector, during which the whisper grew into a cry. It is the story of the South African people’s attempt to hold power to account through the Office of the Public Protector. More significantly, this important book stands as a record of the crucial work Madonsela has done, always acting without fear or favour.

An extract from Davis’ review reads:

The story of Thuli Madonsela as Public Protector is, by definition, the story of South Africa’s recent history. Thandeka Gqubule’s No Longer Whispering to Power is a reminder of what a surreal roller coaster South African politics can be. For this reason, it is a sobering read: even being taken through events that we all know well, like the “scope creep” of Nkandla, leaves one a little breathless at the scale and brazenness of what President Jacob Zuma’s leadership has inflicted on the country.

But at the heart of the story are two women who should leave us with a greater sense of optimism about what South Africa is capable of producing. One is, obviously, Thuli Madonsela. The second is author Thandeka Gqubule, a journalist who was one of the “SABC 8” who stood up to growing censorship at the public broadcaster under Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and was suspended for doing so.

The two women have known each other for more than three decades. During the State of Emergency in Johannesburg in the mid-1980s, Madonsela was working as a unionist. At that time, Gqubule was held for a month in solitary confinement at the notorious John Vorster Square, after being betrayed by a white friend secretly working for the apartheid police. Madonsela was among the other activists arrested; she was detained without trial at Diepkloof Prison, where Gqubule would later join her. In prison, Madonsela is remembered as “a comforting presence, not easily disturbed by isolation and psychological pain”.

This was not always the case.

The young Thuli Madonsela, we learn, was an awkward and anxious child, teased for having a “big head”. Madonsela and her six siblings grew up sleeping on the kitchen floor of a house in Soweto. She would go on to lose three of her siblings; one to suicide.

Madonsela’s mother was a domestic worker. Her father, who ran a mobile shop, was a strict patriarch who did not want young Thuli to wear trousers. He was also determined that she be a nurse, but Madonsela had other ideas. The volatility of Soweto in the 1970s led her parents to move Madonsela out of the country to be educated in Swaziland, at Evelyn Baring High School. It was in Swaziland that she would also pursue her undergraduate studies in law.

Madonsela and her political consciousness were a product of the United Democratic Front – which Gqubule describes as focused on grassroots social justice – rather than the African National Congress, characterised in the book as hierarchical, secretive, and top-down.

Writes Gqubule:

“Madonsela arguably continues the old UDF approach to the rights of the poor, the need to empower the weak, and the primacy of social justice, as well as the need to embody and own the democratic project in our daily praxis – at home, at work and in society in general.”

Gqubule further suggests that Madonsela’s particular approach to jurisprudence is steeped in Christian notions of dignity, and the communitarianism of African humanism.

Gqubule’s book is a reminder of how little we know about Thuli the person, as opposed to Thuli the Protector.

Continue reading the review here.

No Longer Whispering to Power

Book details


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