The identity of the individuals who leaked the trove of emails from within the Gupta empire has never been revealed – and still can’t be, out of concern for their safety. But at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering: Media Edition, the #GuptaLeaks whistle-blowers were heard for the first time in public in a pre-recorded interview, revealing that they are living outside South Africa for the foreseeable future and that they had to leave the country in a great hurry.
“John” and “Stan” are not the real names of the individuals who leaked more than 100,000 emails, directly implicating the Gupta family in State Capture, to amaBhungane and Daily Maverick in early 2017.
But John and Stan were the names adopted by the two whistle-blowers for the first public interview they have given about the #GuptaLeaks, pre-recorded at an undisclosed location and broadcast to the audience at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering: Media Edition in Cape Town in August.
Appearing only in silhouette, and with their voices distorted to further protect their identity, the whistle-blowers told amaBhungane’s Stefaans Brümmer of the uncertainty and fear that followed their decision to leak the emails.
“I didn’t know what might happen,” said John, while Stan confirmed that the fear of physical harm had been “foremost” on their minds for many months following the leak.
No details about how the men came to be in possession of the emails could be disclosed. Questioned by Brümmer as to whether the emails had been obtained legally, however, Stan responded:
“Everything we’ve done has been above-board, legal and proper.”
He added: “The information was not only properly obtained, rightfully, but [leaking it was] in the public interest.”
The two whistle-blowers dismissed the idea that any political agenda had played a role in the leak.
“We’re not political in any way, shape, or form,” said Stan. “It’s a matter of right and wrong. The fall of a president was not in our minds at all at any time. We’re just regular South Africans.”
He acknowledged, however, that the conduct of former president Jacob Zuma was a major incentive for them to blow the whistle. Stan remembered watching Zuma giggle during one of his parliamentary appearances, and thinking: “No, Mr President. You shouldn’t be doing that. Presidents don’t behave like that. People must see what’s behind the laughter.”
Stan said that their frustration at being in possession of potentially explosive information prior to sharing it with the media had led to some “very funny moments”. He recalled the two men watching the SABC parliamentary inquiry unfold on TV, during which a particular document was mentioned.
“We were shouting at the TV: ‘We have that document!’” Stan said.
In John’s case, this meant calling “several” members of his family together to tell them it was necessary to leave the country immediately. John said he told his family:
“There is nothing more I can do. For your safety, we have to leave.”
Stan’s response was more prosaic – he admitted that he was worried about leaving before he had fixed the gutters on his property.
“It’s not easy to abandon your place where you live,” he told Brümmer.
The whistle-blowers confirmed that they have no intention of returning to South Africa in the immediate future, though both expressed a strong preference to come home as soon as possible.
They stressed to anyone contemplating a similar act the importance of co-ordinating with “good people” with whom to share the information, ensuring one’s personal safety, and having an exit strategy.
“Before you attempt to do anything,” advised John, “ask yourself: ‘Do I have protection?’”
Asked by Brümmer whether they would do it again, Stan was candid.
“To be honest, in the last year there have been times when I said: ‘I’ll never do it again,’” he said.
“But then you remind yourself why you started this whole process.” DM