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'I have suffered severe damage': Whistleblower Athol Williams who testified at State Capture inquiry flees SA

Former UCT Ethics lecturer Athol Williams said there had been growing concern for his safety since he testified about companies and individuals at the State Capture Inquiry. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Former UCT Ethics lecturer Athol Williams said there had been growing concern for his safety since he testified about companies and individuals at the State Capture Inquiry. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 8, 2021

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Cape Town - In a statement released last night, former UCT ethics lecturer Athol Williams, who testified at the State Capture Inquiry earlier this year about his brief stint working at Bain & Company, said he had fled the country last week fearing for his life.

Bain & Company had been hired for a controversial restructuring programme at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) during the tenure of former commissioner Tom Moyane.

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The Nugent Commission of Inquiry into Sars had found that Bain had conspired with Moyane to weaken the tax collector.

In his letter, citing the assassination of former senior Gauteng Health Department official Babita Deokaran, Williams said South Africa needed citizens with moral courage to speak up.

“On Monday, November 1, 2021 I hugged every member of my immediate family, us all in tears, as I said goodbye to board a flight. I was not going on vacation or taking a business trip, I was leaving South Africa for my safety,“ wrote Williams.

He said there had been growing concern for his safety since he testified about companies and individuals at the State Capture Inquiry.

“Rather than diminish after I testified, these concerns increased while the prospect of prosecutions grew. After Babita Deokaran was assassinated, concerns spiked, because it showed that authorities were choosing not to proactively protect whistleblowers,” wrote Williams.

Deokaran, who had been co-operating with the Special Investigations Unit probing corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment by the Gauteng Health Department, was assassinated outside her home on August 23 after she had dropped off her daughter at school.

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Williams wrote he had been disturbed by the failure of government to provide him with protection after he had implicated 39 parties in his testimony.

“After receiving warnings from trusted allies and a civil society organisation about a co-ordinated effort against me, I took the sad step to leave home, again without any help," wrote Williams.

In June, UCT denied it had offered Williams hush money to stop him from asking questions over whether the university used the services of some of the companies which had been implicated in state capture.

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“I have spoken up continuously about injustices in our country and taken action where I could.

“Rather than support me, I’ve faced alienation and abandonment by corporate South Africa which I served for many years, from the university where I taught ethics, and from my government, and I’ve been let down by many friends.

“I’ve lost all sources of income and had to sell belongings to meet my obligations which include funding social projects like Read to Rise which works with 20 000 children annually.

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“I have suffered severe damage to my health and my reputation. Now I have lost my home, being forced out of the very country I acted to defend. I feel profound sadness that leaves me in tears. I shake my head asking: ‘how did it come to this’?” Williams wrote.

He said it was a tragedy those who had chosen to “do the right thing” had their lives shattered while everyone looked on.

“South African companies and government at local, provincial and national level have let down whistleblowers and witnesses.

“They have let down all South Africans, preferring empty statements and platitudes over sincerity and authenticity. We are losing our battle against corruption because our government is allowing it, if not participating in it,” said Williams.

He said South Africa was losing the battle against corporate corruption because company boards and CEOs were allowing it, if not active participants.

“We have a very dangerous situation in South Africa where we accept the narrative that only a few bad apples are involved in state capture. The reality is that there are many important and influential people who we revere in society, who we offer awards to, who sit on boards and committees and lead grand initiatives and organisations, who are in fact enabling this capture and benefiting from it,“ said Williams.

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