Anti-corruption body Transparency International has named South African lawyer, Thuli Madonsela, winner of its integrity award for 2014, citing her investigations into graft allegations at every level – all the way up the president.
The Berlin-based organisation said in a statement on Friday that Madonsela had been chosen for her fearless work in tackling corruption in South Africa, describing her courage as “unwavering” and “inspirational”.
“Thuli Madonsela’s work embodies Transparency International’s deeply-held belief that the corrupt should not be allowed to get away with their misdeeds,” JC Weliamuna, Chair of Transparency International’s Integrity Awards Committee, said.
Madonsela, who helped draft South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution, was appointed public protector by President Jacob Zuma in 2009.
She then investigated allegations that he had misused public funds to upgrade his rural homestead.
Her report found irregularities in the use of millions of dollars in public funds to upgrade Zuma’s home and recommended he pay back some of it, prompting lawmakers to chant “pay back the money” at the president in parliament earlier this year.
Zuma denied any wrongdoing and said the upgrades were needed to ensure his security as head of state.
In August, Madonsela wrote to Zuma asking him for a response to her recommendations and was subsequently met with a flurry of abuse including an accusation that she was a CIA spy.
David Lewis of Corruption Watch, a civil society organisation and a local chapter of Transparency International, said the award represented a “gratifying show of support from the global community” towards Madonsela’s work.
“It is an honour and privilege to be recognised as part of a nation that is committed to doing the right thing for all its people,” Madonsela said in a statement on the eve of the award.
Speaking to Transparency International, Madonsela said citizens needed to take ownership of the scourge of corruption in the country.
“I would like to see South Africans recognizing that corruption hurts – it eats away at the soul of the nation. I’d like us to get to a stage of realizing that we all have a role to play in combating corruption: every time people act they should ask themselves: ‘Am I adding to the problem of corruption or am I helping solve it?'”
According to the corruption body, 62 percent of South Africans say they feel corruption has increased between 2007-2010, while 45 percent feel the government’s efforts have been ineffective.
Madonsela quickly shot to prominence when she found irregularities in the leasing of accommodation to the South African Police Services (SAPS) in 2010.
In April 2014 Madonsela was named in Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.