Failure to protect whistle-blowers a threat to SA

A computer key with the words WHISTLE BLOWER surrounded by blank grey keys.

File Picture: Stockfoto

Published Oct 29, 2022


Experts say the state’s inability to protect whistle-blowers has silenced those who want to speak out and is a threat to democracy.

KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas said very often whistle-blowers were victimised instead of supported.

“There are also problems around support, as whistle-blowers often have jobs in the public sector, and even tertiary institutions, and when staff take a stand against and oppose corruption, they become targets.”

While the country’s Protected Disclosures Act is meant to protect those reporting corruption, very often it is flouted. The act is meant to protect whistle-blowers from being subjected to disciplinary action, dismissed, suspended, demoted, harassed or intimidated, or being transferred against their will because of the disclosure.

De Haas said many people were loath to reveal information out of fear for their own lives, and even those of their children.

“They also fear job loss, which is widespread. Malicious disciplinary actions at work in police and other government departments, and even some tertiary institutions, are used to silence people from speaking out about nepotism, corruption, fraudulent qualifications, and so on. We are a mafia state.”

She said there was no political will to protect whistle-blowers.

“The president speaks of the importance of whistle-blowers but does nothing. He has not even pushed for the enactment of recommendations to clean up state security, which were deemed urgent in the 2018 Mufamadi panel report, and the same state security keeps critics in government departments under surveillance and decides who can occupy senior positions in departments.”

Two of the most high-profile cases involving the murders of whistle-blowers are the Babita Deokaran and Sindiso Magaqa killings.

Deokaran was the chief director of financial accounting in the Gauteng health department and was at the forefront of fighting and exposing alleged

PPE tender corruption. She was shot dead outside her Johannesburg home last year.

Six men have been arrested for the murder and are currently before court.

Magaqa was the ANC Youth League’s secretary-general in 2017. He was shot while parking his Mercedes Benz at his home in uMzimkhulu after attending a meeting in July of that year.

Magaqa had been vocal about alleged corruption in uMzimkhulu Local Municipality, where he was a councillor.

The accused in his case are also before court.

Corruption Watch executive director Karam Singh said intimidation, violence and other detrimental issues were the threats faced by whistle-blowers.

“The murders of whistle-blowers has a chilling effect on those who want to come forward. There are negative consequences because corruption is concealed if you do not have someone on the inside who is willing to provide this information.”

A whistle-blower, who emigrated after receiving death threats has expressed concerns that the murder of Deokaran and others who acted against corruption will deter those who want to speak out.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said: “Whistle-blowers are facing extinction in this country. Babita was not protected by the state despite them knowing she had blown the whistle on corruption involving tens of millions of rand.”

Bloemfontein-based whistle-blower Patricia Mashale and her husband, George, formerly an SAPS operational member, have been exposing corruption in the SAPS for the past 13 years, and have paid the price with malicious arrests and disciplinary action.

Both are in hiding. President Cyril Ramaphosa and Parliament have been informed Mashale is being persecuted by her colleagues and have been urged to provide her with protection.

Mashale told The Mercury that whistle-blowers were not offered protection because they were seen as threats rather than people who contributed to strengthening the country’s constitutional democracy.