This letter to her 16-year-old self gives insight into Thuli Madonsela‘s life before she became South Africa’s formidable Public Protector – one of the few current SA government office bearers who retain any integrity. Read her report on the misuse of public funds at the private residence of President Jacob Zuma at Nkandla. You can tell between the lines of this letter that she had to learn early in life to be comfortable with making unpopular choices to be able to do the things she believed in.
The following is an extract from From Me to Me: Letters to my 16-and-a-half-year old self (Jacana Media, 2012), a collection of letters written by South Africans to their teenage selves.
26 April 2012
It is April 2012, 5 months before our big 5-0 birthday. I am your future. At the moment, you are 16-and-a half years old, doing grade 11, known as form four then, at Evelyn Baring High School in Swaziland, the year being 1979. You are wondering what you will be, caught between thoughts of pursuing medicine and law. Your pastor’s disapproving views on the latter are not in any way helpful. I know you are socially awkward, plagued by a nagging feeling of being unloved and ugly.
Perhaps this comes from being teased about your big head and, more recently, two of your academically inferior classmates have started taunting you, too. Having two sisters whose beauty is always noticed and praised has not helped either. Secure in your academic prowess – for which you are always praised at home and at school – you are regarded as helpful and relied on by your family, friends, teachers and your church. This makes you feel significant. You will excel, academically, throughout your life and this will bring you to where you are right now. I’m writing to tell you to relax because you are a perfect expression of God’s magnificence.
You are the mother of two wonderful children, a beautiful daughter Wenzile Una and a handsome son Mbusowabantu “Wantu” Fidel. Your fears of being unlovable were unfounded. You have been loved and supported beyond measure throughout your life. Today, you are the nation’s Public Protector – a very responsible position that helps curb excesses in the exercise of public power while enabling the people to exact justice for state wrongs. You had the privilege of playing some role in bringing about change in this country, including the drafting of the new constitution that saw Nelson Mandela become the first black President. Mama was right, education is the great leveler. I’m glad I listened to her.
You have experienced tough times and great times, been met with nurturers and detractors, but all these life lessons have been necessary to help you bloom. You have come to realize that you are perfect for your life’s purpose. You’ve always been a dreamer, an eternal optimist. Keep dreaming, for dreams have wings. But live consciously and take time to smell the roses otherwise life will pass you by, including the opportunity to appreciate the finite precious moments you will enjoy with your late partner, younger sisters and parents.
Above all, remember that love is everything and don’t forget to forgive yourself and others.
Love you unconditionally,
Thuli Nomkhosi Madonsela (Your older Self)
Some links and excerpts from commentary that I have found to be worth reading today (I’ll add to this whenever I come across anything interesting – if anyone reading this has suggestions, please pass them on too):
From “The Contradictions of Mandela” – Zakes Mda in the New York Times opinion pages:
The claim is that the settlement reached between the A.N.C. and the white apartheid government was a fraud perpetrated on the black people, who have yet to get back the land stolen by whites during colonialism. Mandela’s government, critics say, focused on the cosmetics of reconciliation, while nothing materially changed in the lives of a majority of South Africans.
This movement, though not representative of the majority of black South Africans who still adore Mandela and his A.N.C., is gaining momentum, especially on university campuses.
I understand the frustrations of those young South Africans and I share their disillusionment. I, however, do not share their perspective on Mandela. I saw in him a skillful politician whose policy of reconciliation saved the country from a blood bath and ushered it into a period of democracy, human rights and tolerance. I admired him for his compassion and generosity, values that are not usually associated with politicians. I also admired him for his integrity and loyalty.
But I fear that, for Mandela, loyalty went too far. The corruption that we see today did not just suddenly erupt after his term in office; it took root during his time. He was loyal to his comrades to a fault, and was therefore blind to some of their misdeeds.
Read the rest of what Mda has to say HERE.
From “Mandela’s Socialist Failure” – Slavoj Zizek in the New York Times opinion pages
In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence, and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Secondly, people remember the old African National Congress which promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory. No wonder that anger is growing among poor, black South Africans.
South Africa in this respect is just one version of the recurrent story of the contemporary left. A leader or party is elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a “new world” — but, then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to “play the game”? If one disturbs these mechanisms, one is very swiftly “punished” by market perturbations, economic chaos, and the rest. This is why it is all too simple to criticize Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option?
It is easy to ridicule Ayn Rand, but there is a grain of truth in the famous “hymn to money” from her novel Atlas Shrugged: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.” Did Marx not say something similar in his well-known formula of how, in the universe of commodities, “relations between people assume the guise of relations among things”?
In the market economy, relations between people can appear as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality: domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such. What is problematic is Rand’s underlying premise: that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation, with any alternative dismissed as utopian. However, one should nonetheless bear in mind the moment of truth in Rand’s otherwise ridiculously ideological claim: the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolishment of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation.
The general rule is that, when a revolt begins against an oppressive half-democratic regime, as was the case in the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilize large crowds with slogans which one cannot but characterize as crowd pleasers – for democracy, against corruption, for instance. But then we gradually approach more difficult choices: when our revolt succeeds in its direct goal, we come to realize that what really bothered us (our un-freedom, humiliation, social corruption, lack of prospect of a decent life) goes on in a new guise. The ruling ideology mobilizes here its entire arsenal to prevent us from reaching this radical conclusion. They start to tell us that democratic freedom brings its own responsibility, that it comes at a price, that we are not yet mature if we expect too much from democracy. In this way, they blame us for our failure: in a free society, so we are told, we are all capitalist investing in our lives, deciding to put more into our education than into having fun if we want to succeed…
… If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter, old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.
Read Zizek’s full post HERE.
From “Nelson Mandela: The Crossing” – Richard Pithouse at SACSIS
[W]e need to be very clear that we did not undo many of the injustices that honed Mandela’s anger in the 1950s…
…But as Mandela returns from myth and into history we should not, amidst the humanizing details of his life as it was actually lived, or the morass into which the ANC has sunk, forget the principles for which he stood. We should not forget the bright strength of the Idea of Nelson Mandela.
Mandela was a revolutionary who was prepared to fight and to risk prison or death for his ideals – rational and humane ideals. In this age where empty posturing on Facebook or reciting banal clichés at NGO workshops is counted as militancy, where rhetoric often floats free of any serious attempts to organise or risk real confrontation, where the human is seldom the measure of the political, we would do well to recall Mandela as a man who brought principle and action together with resolute commitment.
Mandela was also a man whose ethical choices transcended rather than mirrored those of his oppressors. Amidst the on-going debasement of our political discourse into ever more crude posturing we would do well to remember that no radicalism can be counted as adequate to its situation if it allows that situation to constrain its vision and distort its conception of the ethical.
Read the full article by Pithouse HERE.