SU’s Prof Thuli Madonsela appointed to prestigious UN position

Professor Thuli Madonsela.

SU is proud to announce that Professor Thulisile “Thuli” Madonsela, Director of the Centre for Social Justice at the Faculty of Law, has been appointed as an external member of the United Nations (UN) Scientific Advisory Board for Independent Advice on Breakthroughs in Science and Technology.

This appointment by the UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, recognises Madonsela’s contributions to social justice, constitutionalism, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law.

The appointment was made as part of the Board’s initiative to strengthen the role of the UN as a reliable source of data and evidence, and to provide independent insights on trends at the intersection of science, technology, ethics, governance, and sustainable development.

“Scientific and technological progress can support efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – but they are also giving rise to ethical, legal and political concerns that require multilateral solutions,” Mr Guterres said.

“My Scientific Advisory Board will strengthen the role of the United Nations as a reliable source of data and evidence, and provide advice to me and my senior management team.”

Professor Madonsela joins an esteemed group of external members from top universities globally, which includes Professor Yoshua Bengio, Professor Sandra Díaz, Professor Saleemul Huq, Professor Fei-Fei Li, Professor Alan Lightman and Professor Thomas C. Südhof, all distinguished experts in their respective fields.

The Board will also include Chief Scientists from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), World Health Organisation (WHO), and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), alongside the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology and the Rector of the United Nations University.

Professor Madonsela says she was surprised when she was first approached about the position as she is not a scientist. “I am deeply honoured and humbled to be part of the UN’s Scientific Advisory Board. This appointment underscores the importance of fostering collaboration between the scientific community and decision-makers, addressing the complex moral, social and political challenges presented by rapid scientific and technological advancements of our time,” she says.

“It also shines a spotlight on the work of the Law Trust Chair and Centre for Social Justice at SU with the impact of drawing the attention of the UN. It is my hope and belief that this appointment will complement and reinforce our Centre’s efforts at mainstreaming social justice considerations in all policy work while fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly between law, science and technology. I believe this is also good for our University, country and continent.”

Professor Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor says this prestigious role is a testament to Professor Madonsela’s immense contributions to the fields of law, human rights and governance.

“Her dedication and tireless efforts in championing social justice, most recently as Director of the Centre for Social Justice at SU’s Faculty of Law, have left an indelible mark on the global stage. As an institution, we’re extremely proud of her for this achievement. We look forward to witnessing her invaluable contributions to advancing the greater good on an international platform,” Professor De Villiers says.

Professor Madonsela’s illustrious career spans a broad spectrum of leadership roles in civil society and government. As a lifelong activist and advocate of the High Court of South Africa, she has been at the forefront of championing accountability and justice in the exercise of public power and the use of public resources. Named one of TIME100’s most influential people in the world in 2014 and Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2016, her influence extends far beyond the borders of South Africa.

As the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice and a Law Professor at SU, Professor Madonsela conducts and coordinates cutting-edge research on social justice while imparting her expertise in constitutional and administrative law to the next generation of legal minds.

She is also the founder of the Thuma Foundation, an independent democracy leadership, and literacy social enterprise that seeks to empower future leaders and promote democratic values.

Professor Madonsela’s commitment to upholding democracy is evident in her role as one of the drafters of South Africa’s Constitution and her contributions to several laws that have anchored the country’s democratic principles. Among these are the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, the Employment Equity Act, and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act.

In her seven-year tenure as South Africa’s Public Protector, she served as a fearless watchdog, investigating and redressing maladministration, corruption, executive ethic violations, and related improprieties in state affairs.

She was also recently elected to as chairperson of the board of the Cities Alliance, which fall under UN Habitat and served a member of the World Health Organization Foundation. Madonsela is a member of the Academy of Science and the Scottish WS society.

As an external expert member of the UN’s Scientific Advisory Board, Professor Madonsela’s wealth of experience and expertise will play a pivotal role in advising UN leaders on harnessing the potential of breakthroughs in science and technology for the advancement of the SDGs.

The formation of the Scientific Advisory Board marks a vital step towards embracing the full potential of science and technology for the collective benefit of all UN member states. Through collaborative efforts and inclusive representation, the Board will bolster the UN’s capacity to address the intricate challenges and opportunities at the forefront of science and technology, fostering a path towards a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

SU celebrates her appointment and looks forward to witnessing the positive impact she will undoubtedly make in this influential global role.