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Thuli Madonsela accepts German Africa prize in Berlin

November 24, 2016

Known in her native South Africa as "the Steel Lady," former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was awarded the German Africa Prize Thursday for her fight against corruption in her home country.

Deutscher Afrika Preis 2016
Image: DW/D. Pelz

Awards ceremonies are becoming an almost daily occurrence for Thuli Madonsela. Just a few weeks ago South Africa's former public protector was recognized by Forbes Africa as the "Person of the Year." She was also considered a favorite for the German-Africa prize two years ago when she was still in office.

Outside of South Africa, Madonsela is best known for taking on President Jacob Zuma in relation to charges that he used public funds to update his Nkandla private residence. She held the position of public protector from October 2009 to October 2016.

Since 1993, the German Africa Foundation has awarded the German Africa Award to honor "outstanding individuals for their long-standing endeavors to foster democracy, peace, human rights, art, culture, the social market economy and social concerns."

"She is a person of paramount importance, a courageous guardian of the common heritage of a free and just South Africa," said jury president Volker Faigle.

'Courageous and elegant'

Madonsela was handed the award at a ceremony in Berlin on November 23, 2016. The event was attended by numerous German politicians and members of the African community in Germany.

German Africa Prize for Thuli Madonsela

German Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier praised Madonsela for her service to her country and held her up as a role model for women and for those who stand up for civil societies and campaign against corruption.

"As the first woman in this position [public protector], she revealed what many people had suspected, gave a voice to the individual and was an advocate for the poor," he said. "This was not without conflict, but even death threats could not stop Ms Madonsela from fighting for what she believes in."

Accepting the award, Madonsela praised the role her team played in her success. She also thanked the organizers and the German people for the prize.

"The award shows that the people in Germany are interested in what is happening in Africa. They understand that humanity is intertwined: problems in Africa can also affect the people of Germany," said Madonsela.

Perhaps the most heartfelt comment of the night came from a fellow South African, the singer Lebo, who performed at the ceremony.

"Thank you Mama Madonsela. We love you. We respect you and we always felt protected by you," she yelled from the stage.   

This made the "Steel Lady" laugh.

Daniel Pelz contributed to this article from Berlin.