Public Protector

Advocate Thuli Madonsela is a well-known person, and she probably gets more publicity than she would like. But, until 30 September 2016, she was the Public Protector, whose mandate (which stems from the Constitution) is to guard democracy. The Office does this by investigating improper and prejudicial conduct, maladministration, and abuse of power – in any level of government. Adv Madonsela was Public Protector from October 2009 to October 2016, and was kept very busy in that time.

But it is not just ‘Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane’ - the current Public Protector – by herself. She is Head of the Office,1 but in National Management there are almost two dozen senior managers and investigators and there are representative agencies in all provinces. In fact, a huge staff compliment keeps the office of the Public Protector working 24/7.2

The Public Protector Act 19943 falls under the authority of the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.

A. Respect

  1. It is a criminal offence to insult the Public Protector and also the Deputy Public Protector.4

  2. It is an offence to do anything in connection with an investigation by the office of the Public Protector which would constitute contempt of court.5

  3. It is an offence to interfere with the functioning of the office of the Public Protector.6

B. Disclosures

  1. No person may disclose the contents of any document in the possession of a member of the office of the Public Protector, nor the record of any evidence given before the Public Protector, nor any evidence otherwise given during an investigation. It is an offence to do so, unless authorized by the Public Protector.7

C. Investigation

  1. The Public Protector can call on any person to assist in her investigation. It is an offence for such a person to fail to disclose that he has a financial or other interest in the subject matter of the investigation.8

  2. For purposes of an investigation, the Public Protector can direct any person to submit affidavits, or to appear to give evidence, or to produce documents. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with any such directive.9

  3. It is also an offence:

    • to refuse to take the oath, or an affirmation, in regard to the evidence that you will give to an investigator;
    • to refuse or fail to answer any question put to you;
    • to give false evidence.10
  1. See for details of this office. Its counterpart in other countries is referred to as the Ombudsman. 

  2. The National Office of the Public Protector can be contacted on 012 366 7000. The Provincial office contact details are as follows: Gauteng 011 492 2807; Mpumalanga 013 752 8543; North West 018 381 1060/1/2; Western Cape 021 423 8644; KwaZulu-Natal 031 307 5300/5250/5251; Limpopo 015 295 5712/5699/5956; Free State 051 448 6185/6172; Northern Cape 053 831 7766; Eastern Cape 040 635 1286/7. 

  3. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 22 of 2014. 

  4. Section 9(1)(a). 

  5. Section 9(1)(b). 

  6. Section 11(1). 

  7. Section 7(2) read with section 11(1). 

  8. Section 7(3) read with section 11(2). 

  9. Section 4(a) read with section 11(3). 

  10. Section 11(3).