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The South Africa of our dreams

- Wits University

The South Africa of our dreams lies in our collective hands.

These were the sentiments of Wits alumna Advocate Thuli Madonsela.

Madonsela was speaking at an alumni networking event at Wits University yesterday morning, 23 May 2017 where she shared her views on leadership and social justice in Africa and how we can heal our democracy.

“We are at paradoxical times. At the one end, we are the most advances species on earth, on the other hand we are becoming more brutal than animals. Our world is troubled,” she said, making reference to the brutal killings and kidnappings of young women in South Africa over the past few weeks.

“How do we heal our world?” she asked with great concern. 

However, she said, there is still some good in the world. She related her story of how she went from being the daughter of a domestic worker and a general worker to being named one of the TIMES 100 most influential people in the world. 

“All of those things were unimaginable from the world we came from, but they are possible today,” she said, adding that her successes were thanks to the generosity of the human spirit, and people and organisations that invested in her education and career.

Madonsela, an advocate of change and equality, says that as long as injustice prevails, there can’t be sustainable peace in the world.

“If we want peace, we must ensure that democracy fosters free potential and improved quality of life for all with none left behind. Amongst the things that we see in society is structural and systemic inequalities and poverty with mainly disadvantaged groups and communities left behind regarding access to the fruits of democracy and related opportunities.”

The societal challenges we are currently experiencing are a result of the growing governance failures, including systemic governance failure and corruption. These have led to a growing trust deficit between the state and citizens seeing a lot of groups and communities increasingly resorting to public protest.

An Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University, Madonsela says we all need to make an effort to combat corruption.

“If you know what is right, do what is right. If we all do not make efforts to combat corruption, we will soon be in a system whereby [everybody would feel] ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.”

During her tenure of office as Public Protector, she discovered that the leadership paradigm in our country needs to be changed and everyone needs to be seen as leader.

“We need to see everyone as a leader, from a little child in preschool to the president. We need everyone to see themselves as an appropriate leader knowing that what they do and say influences other people. What they fail to do or fail to say influences other people in a particular way.”

Madonsela, a philanthropist and ethicist of social standing added that some of the things which have gone wrong in the country are because of a lack of ethics, purpose driven leadership, and people no considering the impacts of their decisions.

“The South Africa of our dreams is in our hands. This [what we are currently experiencing] is not the South Africa of our dreams. What is unfolding is South Africa derailed. Whatever we do, let’s make sure that we do it with integrity. It is important that we restore justice in the world and ensure social justice. We must find a way to bridge the gap of inequality and poverty.”

She urged fellow almumni to do their part in eradicating inequality and poverty by making sure that every child that deserves to be in university gets enrolled in university and is not financially excluded.

"I know that all of us alumni at Wits already support our academic institution and I know you already are contributing… but it would seem to me that one of the greatest calls right now is to find a way to make sure that everyone that deserves to be in a university gets into university. Smaller states have done that – we can’t wait for government though at some stage government should come to the party …but it is in all our interests to use the [log] in our hands to make sure that nobody who qualifies to be at a university is kicked out for financial reasons."

Her foundation, Thuma (Thuli Mandonsela Foundation) is exemplary of her plea. She ploughed in 20 percent of her gratuity when she left as Public Protector. One of the foundation's premier projects is to make sure that nobody, who is a graduate, calls themselves unemployed.

Madonsela was recently awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Wits in recognition of her integrity in seeking out corruption, upholding our Constitution and defending our democracy.