Thuuli Madonsela is living in fear for her life after she was warned that a prominent Western Cape gang boss had been paid to arrange a hit on her.

The public protector has beefed up security and restricted her movements after receiving a tip-off from a "trusted" whistleblower.

The whistleblower, a known police informant, told Madonsela the gang boss had been paid R740000 and that three hitmen were planning to kill her next month in a hit made to seem like a car accident.

A distraught Madonsela spoke to the Sunday Times this week about her ordeal, saying she had immediately alerted the police's VIP Protection Unit.

"I'm shocked," Madonsela said. "I don't know where this is coming from. I'm leaving office in five months' time. It's probably revenge."

She said she had received a chilling text message on April 1 from an informant she had worked with several times in the past.

"I was preparing to go to the Cape Town Jazz Festival when I received it. The message said: 'Morning. Please be careful. A top gangster by the name of ... was paid to get hitmen to kill you. I will inform [Western Cape safety and security] MEC Dan Plato today about my information.'"

Madonsela said the VIP protection unit "beefed up my security at the event, then downscaled it".

Plato has confirmed that the threat was reported to him. Crime intelligence officers, however, downplayed the threat.

Madonsela was advised to take further precautions. "I have stopped jogging in the mornings and I'm more cautious about my movements," she said.

She said she had held several phone discussions and one meeting with the whistleblower to try to get to the bottom of the threat.

"I take the threat seriously because I have received credible information from the same whistleblower before. On three occasions he gave me information that turned out to be true.

"I'm traumatised. I don't know who was behind the alleged plot and what their motives are."

Madonsela said she was shocked when a Western Cape crime intelligence official assigned to investigate the threat downplayed it and cast doubt on the credibility of the whistleblower. "The officer said 95% of the information from this whistleblower turned out to be false. I asked him 'What if my case falls into the 5% that is correct?'"

The mother of two said she had met with crime intelligence officials in Pretoria as she was unhappy with the Western Cape officer's remark.

"I am still waiting for them to come to me with their assessment."

Until now she had kept the knowledge from her family but informed them on Friday, she said.

Plato said he had advised Madonsela to lay charges. "It seems to me there's more to... the case," he said, but would not elaborate. "Madonsela is aware of what's happening in the Western Cape. She's filled in. That's all I can say."

The hit would be made to look like a car accident. One of the team is an expert at causing car crashes

Speaking to the Sunday Times from Cape Town yesterday, the whistleblower confirmed he had reported the threat to Plato and sent the text message to Madonsela.

"Thuli Madonsela's life is in great danger. I am doing this because I know it is wrong for people to go around killing other people."

He said members of the Western Cape criminal underworld were involved in the plot. "These gangsters knew all about Thuli's travel plans and even once tried to get into her hotel room when she was in Cape Town."

The whistleblower claimed that one of the three hitmen, who he said were paid R40, 000 each to kill Madonsela, had spilt the beans.

"One of the killers wanted to come clean and told me about the plot. He said he had been hired by a prominent Western Cape gangster to execute the hit. The gang boss was given R740, 000 for Thuli Madonsela to be assassinated. This has already been paid," he said.

The whistleblower said the hitman told him he had seen three people he did not identify leaving the gangster's house before he was handed R40 000 in an envelope.

"He said he was told to take an Intercape bus to Park Station in Johannesburg, where he would be met by an accomplice who would take him to Madonsela's house for surveillance. The hit would be made to look like a car accident. One of the members of the team is an expert at causing car crashes," he said. "He was mandated to do it next month."

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The whistleblower claims there was an attempt on his life after someone leaked information to the gang boss that he had blown the whistle. "My drink was spiked and I had a heart attack. I spent four days in hospital. These people will say I lied before but my information has always been proven to be correct a month or two later."

Acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane said he was not aware of the threat, which should have been reported to him. "This is foreign to me. I was never briefed."

Madonsela has come under attack from the ANC following her investigation into state money spent on President Jacob Zuma's private residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.

Last month ANC Women's League chairwoman and social development minister Bathabile Dlamini accused her of political posturing.

She has been called "a CIA spy" by Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe and last year the State Security Agency said it was investigating claims made by a website that Madonsela was a spy. To date nothing has come of the investigation.