On 7 September 2016 the LSSA awarded its inaugural Truth & Justice Award to Adv Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector at a dinner in Pretoria.
The Council of the LSSA instituted the award earlier this year and resolved that the first such award should be presented to Adv Thuli Madonsela for her work as the Public Protector.
The ‘Truth and Justice Award’ recognises consistent and exceptional promotion of and/or work done in terms of the Rule of Law, access to justice, protection and promotion of the Constitution and good governance.
The dinner was attended by Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba, council members of the LSSA, the presidents of some of the provincial law societies, the President of BLA as well as guests and media.
Deputy Judge President Ledwaba said: ‘You knew you were watched and scrutinised, that there are critics and sceptics and that there will be noises to increase anxiety. Some tried to intimidate you but you ignored all negatives and focused on your mandate. In the mist of such adversity, you sidestepped the dangers presented and pursued your goal of protecting the public.’ Read DJP Ledwaba’s speech here.
Co-Chairperson Mvuzo Notyesi, in his tribute on behalf of the LSSA said: ‘Your strong commitment to the fight against corruption cannot be doubted or questioned. You gave life to the Office of the Public Protector and you made us all think constantly that the beneficiary must always be Gogo Dlamini. … The Law Society of South Africa acknowledges the role that you have performed in support of our democracy and in upholding of the principles of the rule of law. You indeed exhibited the character that is expected of a lawyer in South Africa. …. You have distinguished yourself and you now correctly join the ranks of the heroes and heroines of our revolution.’ Read Mr Notyesi’s full speech here.
In her address she thanked the LSSA and said: ‘You have not been afraid as the LSSA to issue statements that we be allowed to pursue our mandate without fear or favour.’
A press release issued by her Office on 8 September stated:
‘Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela on Wednesday received the Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA) inaugural Truth and Justice Award, dedicating it to both her staff and her role model of old, lawyer and freedom fighter, Priscilla Jana.
The award, which, according to the LSSA, recognises Adv. Madonsela’s contribution to the position of Public Protector and the law during her tenure as the institution’s head, brought, to more than 36, the number of honours bestowed on the office since she assumed duty in October 2009.
“As I prepare to clear my desk, my team and I are constantly fielding questions about the fate of some on-going investigations that might not be finalised by the time I leave office,” she said, accepting the honour.
“We have been consistent is pointing out the work I have been credited for is the product of shared resolute leadership, constantly evolving systems, a committed, purpose-driven team that has been learning and growing together, bound by shared values, including a resolute commitment to ethical governance, accountability and responsiveness to all persons.”
She was confident that the Public Protector Team would carry on with any outstanding work with the same determination they have displayed over the years, in the pursuit of service excellence.
On why she dedicated the award to Ms Jana, Adv. Madonsela recalled how as a youngster in the trade union movement, she successfully convinced the renowned human rights lawyer to take up the case of a group of youth that had been put on death row on the basis of the principle of “common purpose”. The group was acquitted.
Of all the awards presented to her, Adv. Madonsela said the closest to her heart were the humbling recognition from her peers in the legal field. These included the latest one, the General Bar Council of South Africa’s Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award, received in 2015, and the South African Women Lawyers Association Award, received at the beginning of her term of office.
Turning to the role of lawyers in protecting and promoting the Constitution, the rights of the vulnerable, the Rule of Law, good governance and to speak truth to power, Adv. Madonsela reiterated her view that legal practitioners advising the state must always shy away from telling their clients what they want to hear and rather tell them what they need to hear.
She called on lawyers to provide the kind of counsel they were proud of, which would help them sleep well at night, adding that his would ensure that they are on the right side of history.
Adv. Madonsela cautioned legal practitioners against advising clients to find loopholes to subvert the law. She warned that such acts would not be in the spirit of protecting and promoting the Constitution, the rights of the vulnerable, the rule of law, good governance and to speak truth to power.
Adv. Madonsela emphasised that failure to own up to mistakes often resulted in the state and those entrusted with public power being forced to own up through means that are destructive as seen in Vhuwani and universities being set alight.
With regard to protecting the rights of the vulnerable, Adv. Madonsela appealed to legal practitioners to consider rendering their services on pro-bono to the needy. She argued that most of the people, who had disputes against the state, did not have the financial muscle to litigate.