Cape Town - Without disclosing his location, whistle-blower, acclaimed author and academic Athol Williams has confirmed that he is safe but feeling a mix of emotions after fleeing the country last Monday in fear for his life.
On Monday, Williams told the Cape Times that he might be back in South Africa in the future but only when he felt safe.
“I feel safe where I am. I feel a range of mixed emotions – self-doubt about whether I’ve done the right thing, regret for the stress this is causing my family, but mostly I feel sadness that after all my years of working for a better South Africa, I have now been forced to leave because I stood up for truth and justice,” he said.
Williams added he would be back in the country when he felt safe again, but did not know when that would be.
“It will depend on what actions are taken to offer me protection and to prosecute the corrupt. I am fearful … not for myself now, but for our country, because the silence about protecting whistle-blowers and the silence about those involved in state capture, protects the villains in our country. They are thriving at the expense of ordinary South Africans.
“I have dedicated myself to uplifting communities through serving on the boards of NGOs, by starting NGOs like Read to Rise, by starting businesses, by investing in others and by speaking at schools across the country. I have not hoarded wealth, rather I’ve invested any excess wealth in communities and individuals. And when it counted, I gave up my livelihood to expose state capture,” Williams said.
Along with a 700-page affidavit for the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Williams, a former senior lecturer at UCT’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), also gave testimony, providing information relating to the South African Revenue Service and his former job at management consultancy firm Bain and plans to weaken the tax collector.
For Williams, concern for his safety grew not only after he testified but also after the murder of Gauteng Health Department whistle-blower Babita Deokaran.
“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 whistle-blowers,” he said.
South African companies and government at local, provincial and national level had let down whistle-blowers and witnesses, Williams said.
“We are losing our battle against corruption because our government is allowing it, if not participating in it. We are losing our battle against corporate corruption because corporate boards and chief executives are allowing it, if not participating in it. This is why we need citizens with moral courage, those who will do the right thing even when they face danger.
“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.”
Civil society organisation SA First Forum called for the year 2021/2022 to be the Year of the Whistle-blower.
“It is a very, very unfortunate state of affairs that a whistle-blower and a person of the calibre of Athol Williams had to leave the country for his safety,” convener advocate Rod Solomons said.
“He is an honourable person. He had the courage to speak out against corruption. It’s an indictment against our government and our president, because this is an indication that they pay lip service to all the promises to protect and support whistle-blowers and they always react after the fact.
“We also remain resolute that the year 2021/2022 should be declared as the Year of the Whistle-blower, where whistle-blowers must get maximum support, and they need to be protected both in the private and public sector.”