PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Dr. Thulisile Nomkhosi Madonsela
Former Public Protector and Professor of Law
By Titilayo Arowolo
Dr. Thulisile Nomkhosi Madonsela was born on September 28, 1962 in Soweto, Johannesburg in South Africa. Her parents Nomansonto and Bafana Madonsela were both informal traders.
She grew up with her brother Musa Madonsela in the city where she was born. In 1968, she attended Nonto Primary School in Soweto and then moved to attend a Seventh Day Adventist Church School in Swaziland. For her secondary school, she attended Evelyn Baring High School between 1980 and 1983 in Nhlangano in Swaziland. While in school, she worked as an assistant teacher from 1980 to 1983. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Swaziland and attained a Bachelor of Arts In Law in 1987. She first entered the legal profession during her time at the university by working as a legal and education officer at the Paper Printing Wood & Allied Workers Union. She went on to complete a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1990.
Madonsela broadened her impact in her law career. She worked at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies as a Ford Foundation Intern in 1992 in Johannesburg, South Africa and later joined its Gender Research Project from 1993 to 1995. She served on the Task team that drafted the Local Government Transition Act from 1993 to 1994. She was also involved in labor law and constitutional issues, and worked with women in trade unions. She was awarded a Harvard Scholarship in 1994, but forfeited it to remain engaged in South Africa on constitutional issues. She was then appointed as a Technical Advisor of the Theme Committees in the Constitutional Assembly working on different aspects of the 1996 South African Constitution. She was a member of a Task Team that prepared constitutional inputs for the Gauteng Province- the region of the Northeastern cities in South Africa- of the African National Congress, and presented the final constitutional document at the African National Congress’ Gauteng Constitutional Conference in March 1995. Madonsela was one of the eleven technical experts to assist in drafting South Africa’s new constitution promulgated by then President Nelson Mandela.
Madonsela’s drive to remain actively engaged in issues of gender and the law continued to inspire her work. After 1994, Madonsela drafted many regulations and policies for several years. Some of her drafting works include: the Employment Equity Act, the Green Paper on Employment Equity, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, the National Action Plan on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and the Local Government Transition Act. In 2006, she wrote a legal advisory opinion that unlocked the passing of the Repeal of the Black Administration Act. The repeal of the act allowed for better control and management of Black people's affairs, after the harmful effects of the apartheid. As a member of a Judicial Transformation Task Team, she contributed to the early draft of the Judicial Service Amendment Act of 2008 and the Judicial Education Institute Act of 2008, and she participated in negotiations with the leadership of the judiciary on these issues.
In 2007, President Thabo Mbeki appointed Madonsela as a full-time member of the South African Law Reform Commission. In early 2009, Madonsela led the Office of the Status of Women in the Presidency to prepare a discussion document for the incoming cabinet on the proposed Women’s Ministry.
On October 19, 2009, Madonsela was appointed Public Protector by President Jacob Zuma. She served a non-renewable term of seven years in the quasi-judicial administrative oversight body responsible for investigating and redressing maladministration, corruption, executive ethic violations, and related improprieties in state affairs. During her tenure, she investigated several high profile cases, including the investigation into government resources allocated to Zuma Nkandla’s residence upgrade and the State Capture report. The State Capture report documented the actions by President Zuma in removing Ministers and Directors of State owned enterprises to benefit certain businesses. She left the office on October 14, 2016 and was replaced by Advocate Busiswe Mkhwebane. Madonsela flourished in her role as defender by working with efficiency and integrity against corruption. Her ability to hold the leaders accountable won her the respect and affection of the nation.
In addition to serving her country as Public Protector, Madonsela also applied her expertise in human rights law to participate in several studies and assessments around the world. She was a member of an European Union team that evaluated the impact of apartheid human rights funding and needs of the new democracy. She also worked in a United Nations team that conducted a human rights needs assessment in 14 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. She conducted several justice studies in the United States, Jamaica, Chile, Australia, Bolivia, and Brazil. As a prolific writer, she directed and chaired the Equality Legal Education Training Unit (ELETU) which provided foundational training for equality court judicial officers, a resource book for equality court clerks, and a legal advice handbook on family law and related matters.
Madonsela was also an active participant in international conferences and represented various countries and interests. She represented South Africa as a negotiator in the Beijing +5 conference -New York 2000, Beijing +10 conference- New York 2005, and World Conference against Racism and Related Intolerances -WCAR, Geneva and Durban 2001. She played a key role and drafted the outcomes document on the Substance and Preparatory Committees on WCAR. She chaired the session of Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers of Justice and Women Affairs that adopted the SADC Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children-1998.
She was a core drafter of various international country reports and treaties. These include the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention of the Rights of the Child, Copenhagen Declaration on Social Integration, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development, and the African Union Gender Policy.
As a result of her tremendous work throughout her career and specifically as public prosecutor, Madonsela received numerous awards and accolades. Some awards include the South African Law Society’s Truth and Justice Award, the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award in South Africa, Botswana Lawyers Association Honorary Membership of the Botswana Bar, and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association’s Truth and Justice Award. She has five Honorary Doctor of Laws Degrees from the University of Stellenbosch, University of Cape Town, Wits University, University of Fort Hare, and Rhodes University. She was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in the world and received the Glamour Woman of Courage award.
In 2016, after her time as public protector, she published several books discussing her commitment to education and gender equality. The books include Secure in Comfort, Corruption, Women and the Law in South Africa, and Beyond Putting Women on the Agenda. Madonsela is the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice and Law Professor at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, where she conducts and coordinates social justice research and teaches constitutional and administrative law. She also founded the Thuma Foundation, an independent democracy, leadership, and literacy social enterprise. She attained a Harvard Leadership Fellowship in 2017. Additionally, Madonsela is a Paul Harris Fellow from the Durban North Rotary Club and is a recipient of Transparency International’s Integrity Award, the German Africa Prize, and the Africa Anti-Corruption Crusader Award, among her innumerable accolades.
Madonsela is currently married to Dick Foxton. She has two children: Mbusowabantu Fidel and Wenzile Una.
Dr. Thulisile Nomkhosi Madonsela is a pioneer fellow because her career demonstrates what it means to work with integrity and justice. She made sure to prioritize the needs of the people and stood up against those who took advantage of the power they had access to. We admire Madonsela for setting the landmark for justice in South Africa and advocating for the rights of women.