'Thuli gave the idea of the title - Thandeka Gqubule discusses No Longer Whispering to Power

"I think all South Africans who grapple with ethics-centred leadership should study the example of Thuli Madonsela."

09 January 2019 - 14:57 By Jennifer Platt

What prompted you to write the book?

I deeply admired the work of Thuli Madonsela as our public protector. I felt strongly that her choices and values were instructive and could provide a navigational tool for us to approach the choppy political and social waters of our land. I was passionate about the need to share this example, and the trials and tribulations of being South African – nonracialism, corruption, active citizenship, a rocky political transition and much more. As I was thinking about this, seated in the lobby of Johannesburg’s Hyatt Hotel, I spotted Jeremy Boraine from Jonathan Ball Publishers. I thought this must be a gift from the angels! I approached and told him that I wanted to do the Thuli book. He was interested and the rest is history.

Where did the title came from?

Thuli gave the idea of the title. It was in one of her iconic speeches. She was attempting to give a non-legal explanation of the role of the public protector in our society. She said it was like that of the makhadzi — a traditional female Venda leader — normally the sister or the aunt of the king. The makhadzi had to be above reproach and above suspicion, much like Caesar’s wife. She was to be exemplary in her conduct, so she quietly led by example. The makhadzi would lean over and counsel the king by whispering, so she wielded her influence surreptitiously and her power was to be known but not seen or heard. She was to make supplications to the king on behalf of the wounded, marginalised and weak in society — even plead for clemency on behalf of those whom the king had treated unfairly. The king ignored the makhadzi at his peril. When the makhadzi was just, the king was thought to be fair-minded. But when the makhadzi raised her voice to the king it means she was “no longer whispering to power” — thus all was not well in the kingdom. I thought this explains the Thuli/Jacob dynamic beautifully.

Who should read your book?

I think all South Africans should – all those who grapple with ethics-centred leadership should study the example of Thuli Madonsela.

What would people be most surprised to learn about Thuli Madonsela?

Thuli was not always self-assured. She was shy and socially awkward when she was a teenager. She also has an elegant sense of humour!

You write about the many rivers South Africans have to cross for a just and equitable society. Where do we stand now?

We still have many rivers to cross. We need to find our common humanity and bond as a people … out of the practical reality that we need to provide a peaceful and meaningful future for our children. We must cross the river of hope or our hearts will slowly die. To do this we must build a bridge over the sea of poverty and inequality. Problems have solutions and we must find them. As Tata said: we have many mountains to climb.

How important was it to situate Thuli in reference to our history?

I think Thuli Madonsela is one of the most significant South African historical figures of the post-apartheid period. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to write this book.

No Longer Whispering to Power (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2017)

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