Last week, Professor Thuli Madonsela – patron of our NGO The Peace Agency – spoke at our annual fundraising ball.
From everyone who was there, it was an exceptional night and Thuli Madonsela contributed in no small way to this success.
A great deal has been written by many – me included – about Thuli Madonsela. But after this night, I wanted to put out a couple of thoughts on what I feel makes this woman so special. The reason for this is two-fold: In terms of the purpose of this column it is to give us ideas of how each of us can respond to our President’s call to Thuma Mina – Send Me. Secondly, it is to honour and publicly pay tribute to an exceptional servant of the Republic.
Before diving in, it is worth considering that this person has well over a million followers on Twitter. When she speaks, people listen with rapt attention and when she finishes people rise to their feet in unison and queue up – in numbers – for selfies with her. We auctioned a signed and personalised copy of her book No Longer Whispering to Power and it sold for R11,000.00.
As we watched all this going on that night, I turned to my Dad and remarked that this kind of attention is usually reserved for rock stars. So, how is it that this gentle, humble, professorial woman who occupied the office of a hitherto unglamorous and frankly rather anaemic Chapter 9 Institution, is treated like a superstar?
The short answer is that she is a superstar. To us South Africans regardless of age, race, gender or political persuasion – this woman is the saviour of South Africa. I am not saying “a saviour”. I am saying “the saviour”. First there was Madiba and then there was Madonsela and they were hewn from the same stone. And I am not using these words lightly or in any kind of gushy, sycophantic way. Trues true. As far as South Africans are concerned, she saved us. Finish en klaar.
Now, she will tell you that her team at the Public Protector was a huge part of her success. She regularly pays tribute to the many ordinary South Africans, whistle-blowers and the media for playing their part. But the reality is that the towering morality and courage of Thuli Madonsela caused many of us to find our spines and use whatever we had in our hands to play our part.
Thuli Madonsela’s presence in the world is a prescient sermon and three things about this sermon stand out for me: Whilst the world clambers for money and power at all costs, hers is a message as old as Love and Wisdom herself; be a candle in the darkness. That’s it. Will your one candle extinguish the darkness? Yes! Yes, it will. I remember confiding in her one day how I was doing battle with privilege in a sea of poverty and inequality. She said: “Enjoy your privilege but use it to help those less privileged.” Simple. Be a candle.
Secondly, when you hear Thuli Madonsela speak; when you see how people adore her, you are left in no doubt that good will always, ultimately triumph over evil. She embodies a promise that God never let’s go of the world and that all our travails and miseries are small and will pass as the work of the universe plays out; moving the world and its people forward because of and not in spite of the droughts, the floods, the plagues, the deaths, the famines, the genocides, the Zuptas, Trump, Brexit – you name it. It will all be okay in the end and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Hope oozes from Thuli Madonsela. Simple. Live with hope.
And finally – laugh freely and often. Thuli laughs a lot. This is what happens when you be a candle and when you live with hope.
Simple. Enjoy the ride.
Thank you Thuli. Let us never stop honouring you for what you did for us and what your life continues to teach us.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
Under the watchful and ever-lazy eye of Jacob Zuma, they toil. His mug beams down upon them along with the unknown (to me at least) Fatima Chohan who serves as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.
It is not for the faint-hearted being a Home Affairs employee. Their place of work is usually hot, stuffy and packed with bodies all radiating heat and irritation. They would be forgiven for being lethargic, lacking passion and over-shooting their breaks. But none of this is true – not where we visit at any rate.
If there is indeed a hell I imagine it will be just like Home Affairs. The place has all the characteristics of Dante’s Inferno; it is mercilessly hot, one glimpses eternity and it is utterly devoid of all soul. Now, it is bad enough going to such a place once every decade or so to renew a passport or replace a stolen ID, but just imagine the torture of working there every day of your life!
In the case of the Home Affairs office we visit, we learn that you must get there no later than 5:00am if you wish to secure a place in the queue. Now this is early – especially If you are renewing your 6-year-old child’s passport too. Even then, by the time you get into the waiting hall itself – a largish room with metal seats – it is well after 8:00am.
The staff are in place and waiting for the onslaught; several hundred people all in various stages of physical and mental breakdown and emotional despair. By the way, this breakdown includes severe dehydration because there are no toilets for public use at Home Affairs Kwa-Dukuza. Consequently, nobody drinks anything even in the searing heat. By the time we get our work done it is well after 11:00am. So, we have neither drunk nor peed for 6 odd hours since leaving home. For others this must be 10 hours at least. It is inhumane and needs urgent addressing.
I wonder how long a Home Affairs worker lasts in their job? To have to deal with people in these conditions day in and day out must take its toll in a big way. They are getting it from all sides.
By the way, if you are moneyed you can avoid the whole queuing annoyance altogether. What we noticed is that well off folk pay someone else to queue for them. Then they pull up in their SUV’s just before 8:00am and dismiss the hot and hapless person queuing for them and take their place, slipping them a few bucks for their efforts. We saw this happen many times. Suffice to say it doesn’t breed very good camaraderie between classes.
After the information guy and the photo/fingerprints gent, we deal with 3 people who are at the business end of the applications. I am guessing that these are the employees that take the brunt of people’s wrath because they are the ones that must inform you that despite your gruelling 6-hour wait you will have to come back because you have forgotten something vital like a certified copy of your deceased father’s underpants. However, this is when the excellence really kicks in.
We complete our daughter’s application in double quick time and are then passed efficiently to another person because the first person’s computer is suddenly on a go slow. Even this is a surprise. Surely at Home Affairs they just wait out the go slow? No. They make a plan. The second person is all over my application. It is complete in about 5 minutes flat. But then it comes: “Do you have R140 on you?”. I respond suspiciously by saying we have paid online and demand to know why he needs more money? “Because I see you haven’t done your photocard ID yet Sir, and we have all your information here for your passport application. If you can pay the amount, I can get my Supervisor to authorise it here and now.”
The Supervisor – a friendly lady who takes real flack when dealing with the people in the queue – does not hesitate to assist. Within 5 minutes I have been e-mailed proof of application for both my passport and my ID. I thank him most sincerely: “This is Home Affairs and we are doing our best” he replies humbly.
I want to publicly honour the staff of the Kwa-Dukuza Home Affairs office in particular Nkosinathi Ngwane, Nirasha Gopee and Supervisor Suraifa Abdool. Like so many people in our country, they go above and beyond to serve the citizens of our nation. Next time you find yourself in Home Affairs, join the queue with all the rest of us and remember to thank those people whose hot and thankless job it is to man the gates of hell.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
There has been a great deal written about Angus Buchan’s recent mega prayer faith gathering near Bloemfontein entitled “It’s Time” and I don’t intend to add to the commentary on the event itself. However, it came about in a week in which an extraordinary video from a US church exploded on social media.
The video sees a middle-aged, white evangelical church pastor asking a young black man onto stage during a sermon. He gently invites the young man to take a seat and asks him to remove his shoes and socks. The pastor then recalls Donald Trump’s election campaign strapline “Make America Great Again” and asks the congregation to consider who America has ever been great for? Certainly not, he says, native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans like this young man, Asians or any other minority group for that matter. America, he says in a brutally factual and disarmingly humble manner, has been truly great for only one group of people; one race; his race. The white race.
In that same week, another church man – this time a local lay preacher and writer by the name of Lorenzo A Davids – penned a less widely circulated but no less powerful article in which he asked some equally probing questions as the US pastor had in his video: If “It’s Time” as Brother Angus tells us it is, then what is it time for? And why is now the time? In the context of his vast audience being mostly white, why was it not time when Madiba died or when Anene Booysens was brutally murdered or, I would add, when Chris Hani was assassinated? What makes now so unique as to see hundreds of thousands of people gather to pray in faith? Is it simply another way of articulating and embodying the Trump rallying cry; “Make South Africa great again.”? And if this is the case, then who are we really praying for it to be great again for? Because it was never great for too many people other than one race; my race; the white race.
Now, you may say that there were also non-white people at the Angus Buchan prayer gathering and that the spirit between races was loving, brotherly, embracing – even healing in its nature. I have heard superb stories of what happened at that event. This is all good and I do not wish for one moment to belittle anything of what took place there. However, it is not enough by a long way. We must add to our faith – whatever faith that may be – works that will actively arrest the decline of our nation but also radically transform it and bring restitution. What does this look like? What must we do? What is it time for?
I believe that what the American evangelical pastor does next provides us with the answer, but before going there, let me borrow again from Lorenzo A Davids who speaks profoundly about what he terms the Zacchaeus Moment. When he meets Jesus and has a revelation about the many he has wronged, the legendary criminal tax collector Zacchaeus – the small guy who had to climb up a fig tree to see Jesus – repents. This is not just a simple matter of saying sorry, although I am certain he did this. As part of his repentance he gives half of his possessions to the poor and to those he cheated out of money, he returns 4 times the amount he had taken. Put another way, his repentance included significant restitution. He added to his faith, action. It was only then that Jesus declared salvation over Zacchaeus’ house. It is this salvation that Brother Angus is praying for.
As he continues to speak, the white pastor gets down on all fours in front of the young black man. He looks him in the eyes and he speaks with such tenderness as he takes his feet gently in his hands and begins to wash them. A young black man. An older white man. He tells the youngster that he cares about him; that he is valuable to him; that he is not inferior to him despite what history would tell him. They are brothers even though their contexts are so different.
He holds his feet with such care. He gets down as low as he can; as close to the young man’s feet as he is able. He massages his feet, each one in turn – slowly. Tears fall down the young man’s face as the pastor slowly dries the young man’s feet, embraces him and tells him he loves him.
This is not American theatrics. This is what leaders like Christ and more recently Pope Francis model in terms of a start point for healing and restitution. For Francis, he washes feet whenever he can; Christians, non-Christians, men, women, refugees, prison inmates you name it. He actively eschews his position as the leader of millions; he makes himself accountable for the wrongs of others; he humbles himself by getting down as low as he can to take broken and dirty feet into his hands and wash and sometimes even kiss them.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.
“Just as the power of water often lies in the ability to bend around obstacles, sometimes the most powerful step you can take is a step back”.
Advocate Thuli Madonsela posted this quote on her Twitter timeline just hours after last Wednesday’s release of her State of Capture report. The quote was not direct and not credited to anyone which made it more of a note-to-self than anything. I have always had a sense of this woman’s unique ability to intuit the metaphysical and spiritual requirements of the moment beyond the physical aspects of her work as our Public Protector. Without naming it as such, I believe this is why most of us esteem her as we do. We in turn intuit the extent of her impact rather than just see, hear or feel it. Madiba elicited the same response. The fact that her response to the release of this final labour-of-love was to step back, should confirm what we may have sensed all along; that she is as much a spiritual leader as anything else. This is not a badge of honour and certainly not a mantle that I would expect her to wear comfortably, but that very fact would serve as further proof of the hypothesis. When I say spiritual leader, I am not using this term in any kind of religious way, although that is how she – and indeed perhaps you the reader – chooses to give expression to spirituality. I am talking about a leader who “leads from the deep” as it were; from beneath the heart level; from that level of intuition that exists in those that understand that to fall is to rise; to step back at the right time is the ultimate power-move. As my favourite Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr puts it, the power of “falling upward”. Is this servant leadership? Yes, in its very purest form. Thuli Madonsela is a person who understands what it means to lead in such a way. How can we tell this? Because in her finest hour, she knew instinctively that her most powerful response would be to step out of the limelight and into the shadows. She knew that for her work to have the maximum power and impact, she was going to need to humble herself and – without taking so much as a bow – exit stage left. This would allow the necessary processes to unfold untainted and uncluttered by her presence. The job was done.Now, had I been her, I would have booked interviews on every radio and TV station possible. I would have made sure that the whole dang world knew how great I was. I would have got someone to sky-write “Justin For President” but pretended it was just an adoring fan. I would have planned the release of my book – entitled “Just in Time – How I saved South Africa” – to coincide with the release of this report. There would have been mugs, pens, t-shirts – the works. Now come on admit it; you would have been tempted to do the same and shore up your fame and fortune for good.But she chose to post a quote about stepping back. Why? Firstly, she knows that we are ultimately only ever as powerful as we are humble. That is the conundrum of falling upward. The extent to which our ego is in control determines our impact for good in the world. Alas, this does not mean that ego-driven human beings will not become powerful leaders. It simply means that their legacy of positive impact is an illusion that will ultimately fade and die.Secondly, by leading from this place of humility she will have sensed that in the days and weeks following the release of this damning report, crooks and cronies would come crawling out from under their rocks to try and discredit her. By stepping back she would give them nothing new to say. They would simply have to follow legal processes; not something that criminals like to do.And finally, she drew a line in the sand and said, this job is now done; this fight is fought. I can now rest and prepare for the next challenge – whatever that may be.Of course, there is also an implicit challenge in Madonsela’s above quote. It is her time to step back but where does that leave us? It is most certainly not our time to step back. As our Public Protector, she left us her legacy as well as lessons and of course tools to step forward and continue the fight for our democracy. But the battle is far from over. As Vytjie Mentor said, we are the same now as we were before the report. What can we do to ensure that South Africa emerges victorious from this battle for her soul? I do not have 3 steps you can follow here, but I do know that our role in the process will come to each of us as we seek to lead humbly where we are and as we understand that each of us must play our part – however big or small – in the healing of our nation.This – more than any report – is the greatest legacy that Thuli Madonsela leaves us.#leadlikethuliJustin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.