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Thulisile Madonsela- the Purpose Driven Ombudsman

Thulisile Madonsela

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; to be kind and not weak, to be bold and not bully; to be thoughtful and not lazy; to be humble and not timid; to be proud and not arrogant ; have humor but without folly” .

I stumbled upon this statement by Jim Rohn, while trying to piece this story together and was a bit thrilled because it helped my writing; in fact, in a way it describes the subject matter of my writing.

Yet, writing about this lady of class and style remains a bit of a challenge for me, not because I have a problem with forming words that make sense, oh!

Not at all , but because I am writing about one that is MAD, well just so you don’t misinterpret and run into troubles, I mean one that is (Making A Difference); a woman whose great achievements cannot be readily summarized in a few pages.

Thulisile Madonsela,(well most people love to call her Thuli), is a human rights and constitutional lawyer, equality expert, policy expert and Public Defender of South Africa with over two decades of post legal qualification and experience.

She was appointed by the president as South Africa’s public defender on the recommendation of the parliament following a hundred percent vote in her favour by all the parties present. To me, she is the action lady that fears no foe.

Born in Johannesburg in 1962, Madonsela grew up in Soweto and is the daughter of Bafana and Nomasonto.  She believes strongly that the training and moral values she got from her parents shaped her future greatly and prepared her for leadership.

In her words;

our parents’ values become our own. Even though my mother was officially a domestic worker, she was well known in Soweto as an unofficial social worker. She was always there to soothe the waters between fighting husbands and wives and troublesome neighbours. A knock at the door in the middle of the night often meant there was a baby to deliver – and as a midwife, off she’d go. We also learnt that guests had to be fed first – which usually meant going out to buy ourselves bread when they’d left”.


Although her parents didn’t have so much, young Thuli had a burning desire; an aspiration that she was not ready to sacrifice.

She had a dream that one day she would become a Top-class lawyer.

And with determination and focus, doors opened for the young woman and there it was, right before her pretty face was the opportunity she always hoped for.

Madonsela got enrolled and eventually graduated with a BA in Law from the prestigious University of Swaziland in 1987 and then proceeded for her LLB in the University of the Witwatersrand in 1990.

Her post graduate studies include a partial LLM studies and legal courses mainly in the area of equality, administrative justice, legal drafting and public administration. She is also trained in project management, scenario and strategic planning. She has also participated in several Executive Management and Leadership Development.

Madonsela defied the popular belief born out of ignorance that lawyers were indecent because of the demands of their profession.

According to her;

“lawyers were not seen to be decent people, at that stage, the notion of a lawyer was of someone who defended criminals”.

Now she didn’t just turn out to be a top-class lawyer, she became one with an amazing polish, decency and an irresistible sense of humour.

Well, it is just so clear, that the leading lady’s adroitness in leadership is not a recent development; it is skill she has imbibed greatly from her youth. Now I understand what Mitt Romney meant when he said that; “leadership is about taking responsibilities and not making excuses”.

At age 18 Madonsela taught matriculants biology and physics at Naledi High School, where she was a temporary teacher. Between 1992 and 1993, she was Secretary of the Dlamini Civic Association and an executive member of the Soweto Civic Association; she was also active in the Trade Union Movement, where she offered legal advice.

Madonsela was one of 11 technical experts who helped in the drafting of the final constitution of South Africa in 1994-1995; she forfeited a Harvard Scholarship to focus on her constitution drafting role.

She is co-architect of Justice vision 2000, Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, Employment Equity Act, The National Action Plan and the Local Government Transition Act she has also contributed to several other laws enacted to transform the South African legal system since 1994, which includes the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act and the Repeal of the Black Administration Act.

She has also participated greatly in several international forums and contributed to key international writings and documents, including the WCAR Outcomes documents and the Beijing +5 and several other human rights reports. In 2012 she was named South Africa’s Most Influential Woman.


Madonsela is a member of several professional bodies, including the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA), African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL), Black Lawyers Association (BLA) and Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA).

She also does regular trainings and addresses conferences on equality and other areas of her expertise. She is also a good writer and publisher, some of her written works include; Journal articles, books, learning resources and book chapters.

Her major achievement in this regard includes co-authoring a bench-book for Equality courts, Resource Books for Equality Court Clerks, SAWLA Legal Advice Handbook on Family Law and Related Matters and also Handbooks on Gender Management and Gender Mainstreaming.

What I find very impressive about this woman of character is that she enjoys her job as the public defender and does it without fear or favour.

She makes it a point of duty to take any case not minding who is involved.

In her words;

“I think this is where I was meant to be, I feel like naturally I was meant to do all the things that I’ve done”. Thuli-Madonsela

The action lady confesses that she loves a good read but goes to the movies anytime she wishes to unwind. She says she is extremely spiritual and makes it a point to never miss a Sunday service at her church.

And to a very great extent she loves her family; she says

“Family keeps you grounded. My wardrobe consists of black, black and more black. My daughter, the fashion adviser, says “don’t be such a lawyer”. The thing is, no matter what they say or do, you just love them, even when they drive your car into walls”.

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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