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Judith February: Applauding accountability

The Public Protector must surely have a backbone of steel? Her resilience in the face of political pressure is quite remarkable. This past week, she made the unusual move of issuing a subpoena for the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, to appear before her. Muthambi had refused the public protector's 'invitation' to discuss the matter in which Thuli Madonsela found that SABC Chief Operating Officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, was being allowed to operate above the law. Quite unbelievably, Muthambi endorsed the SABC board's decision to confirm Motsoeneng's appointment, preferring to take legal advice rather than implement Madonsela's recommendations.

This rightly irked Madonsela. The board or the minister have yet to deal with Madonsela's report. It is clear that Motsoeneng has the support of everyone right to the very top and that ignoring the public protector's findings is simply becoming a way of government doing business. The president has yet to respond to the Nkandla findings, yet we are told he will.

The public protector therefore finds herself in an increasingly difficult space. The legitimacy of her office depends on whether those in power respect it and adhere to her recommendations. What we are seeing from Muthambi, and indeed the president himself, does not augur well for the strengthening of Madonsela's office. Muthambi's next move will be interesting. Will she be prepared to disregard a democratic institution in favour of narrow political interests?

Speaking of debacles, Pallo Jordan has been found wanting and without the PhD he claimed to have. Yet after a week of much public debate and silence from Jordan, the ANC in Parliament, under the leadership of chief whip Stone Sizani, presented a rather lengthy defence of Jordan, whom Sizani said remained a source of pride for the ANC. Barely a day later, however Luthuli House issued a statement saying that Jordan had discussed the matter with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and others and that he was resigning from the ANC national executive committee and as a Member of Parliament.

The variance between the ANC in Parliament's statement and Luthuli House's statement also shows the deep schism between the different parts of the ANC. Neither really holds the ethical high ground given Luthuli House's dogged defence of President Zuma in relation to Nkandla and the landing of the Gupta aircraft at Waterkloof airforce base. Yet, the differences between the statements could not have been more stark and the ANC in Parliament will surely be scratching its head. At least Jordan's resignation will ensure there is no in-fighting between the Parliamentary ANC caucus and Luthuli House on the issue.

As Mantashe said, the resignation was not 'for the faint-hearted.' It is indeed so that we do not require our politicians to go to university, or indeed to hold PhDs, but we do require that they not lie about it. Yet, for Jordan even in his embarrassment may come redemption. Jordan has faced the wrong and that is welcome during these days in which denial and a lack of concern about public opinion has become the order of the day.

The resignation also sends a strong message to Jordan's fellow ANC colleagues, the president included, that he may have erred in telling and perpetuating the lie, yet he is able to take responsibility for his conduct. One cannot help but think that as a society we ought to welcome Jordan's actions, not seek to burn him at the stake now. We can then only hope that others such as Motsoeneng will take their lead from Jordan's actions.

But there are other academics too who walked the talk and it is fitting to doff our caps to them. John Daniel, activist, intellectual and academic, passed away recently and since then tributes have been pouring in for this man amongst men. He was a wise mentor, contributed richly to the body of literature on South Africa and also its place in the world. Daniel taught political science at the University of Durban-Westville after his return from exile. He returned to take up his rightful place; irreverent and a raconteur of note, Daniel and his long-standing friend and academic Roger Southall worked from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to revive the South African Review series which then became the State of the Nation. Daniel and Southall edited this together brilliantly, if in a manner most eccentric.

For those of us who were involved in writing for their volumes, we knew it would be an experience, travelling away to the Kwazul- Natal South Coast and discussing each chapter carefully before Daniel put his editor's pen like a scalpel to our chapters, but always with the greatest grace and humour. Their mutual irreverence and brilliance was not universally appreciated, as Southall says, "Ultimately, alas, it got all a bit too much for the post-(Mark) Orkin HSRC hierarchy, and the editors were summarily and very rudely removed!" Indeed, both Daniel and Southall were too independent-minded and creative to be boxed in by the HSRC, which has become too compliant and mired in meaningless bureaucracy to innovate intellectually.

But that matters not because Southall and Daniel went on to innovate elsewhere. At the end of it all, Daniel will be remembered for taking the path less travelled and for not erring on the side of cautious executive-mindedness and for helping to makes scores of young South Africans better writers and thinkers.

Madonsela is still very much with us, yet Daniel sadly departed. Both their life's work is testimony to their love of country. As citizens we should lend our unwavering support to Madonsela and also extend a salute to Daniel for a legacy of intellectual rigour.

Judith February is a senior analyst at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

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