Whispering Truth to Power
"A deeply South African story, but one that feels very much in line with this current historical moment around the world—not only in Thuli’s battles against a corrupt ruling system, but in the fact that she’s fighting that battle as a black woman." - Variety
"[A] timely portrait of a bad-ass public servant who uses her office for good at a pivotal moment in South African politics.” - HotDocs Jury
- Sheffield DocFest
- HotDocs | *Special Jury Prize*
- Jozi Film Festival | *Best Documentary*
- Durban International Film Festival
- New York African Film Festival
This timely chronicle of Thuli Madonsela's final year in office as South Africa's first female Public Protector is a sobering portrait of a society in turmoil, and illuminates the challenging fight against corruption and the legacy of institutionalized racism.
In the two and a half decades since the end of apartheid, politics in the Republic of South Africa has been dominated by the African National Congress (ANC) liberation party. Jacob Zuma, a leader of the ANC and its armed wing in the fight for freedom, was elected as the 4th President of South Africa in 2009. Later that year, Thuli Madonsela, a former anti-apartheid union organizer and legal advisor herself in her early years with the ANC, was appointed Public Protector of South Africa, an ombudsman-type role and one of the Chapter Nine institutions established in the country's post-apartheid Constitution to help safeguard its fledgling democracy. Madonsela had been, in fact, one of the legal consultants and original authors of the much-praised Constitution.
Although apartheid was formally ended in the 1990s, South Africa's economy remains dominated by wealth accumulated prior to its fall, with most real estate, business, and financial assets under firm control of a small group of white businessmen. Additionally, the apartheid government privatized many of the state’s assets in the years before it fell—roads, rail and the national airline. In this context, it is hardly surprising that single party dominance has helped lay fertile political ground for corruption.
Under the astute and softly-spoken Madonsela, the profile and influence of the Public Protector began to grow exponentially. With a mandate to protect ordinary citizens from corruption and illegality by the state and powerful business interests, she began to use the media to masterfully communicate and elevate the work of her office. Citizens who had long struggled to obtain identification documents finally received them, poor neighborhoods finally gained access to water and electricity, and victims of urban development were at last compensated for losing their homes. Over time, Thuli grew to become one of the most recognizable people in South Africa.
She also dared to follow democratic principals all the way to where others had been too afraid to go, including the office of the President. Over 2014-2016, people around the world were stunned when a little-known public official—against against all conceivable odds—managed to press the constitutional system, through a decision handed down by the highest court, into forcing President Jacob Zuma to pay back public funds unlawfully spent on his private home. Yet Madonsela’s biggest challenge came about afterward. The end of her term in 2016 was marked by an investigation—in face of death threats, violent protests, and heightened racial tensions—into a massive scheme of governmental manipulation by a private family in cahoots with the President. Madonsela left office without releasing the results of the investigation, with faith that the constitutional democracy she believed in would take the reigns. The scandal grew to become known as "Guptagate", and eventually led to Jacob Zuma's resignation in 2018.
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86 Minutes | English, Zulu and Sotho, with English subtitles.
Directed by Shameela Seedat
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