DAYS OF ZONDO: INTERVIEW

SAA whistle-blowers: ‘We want to see people being charged – then we will feel vindication’

By Melody Emmett 12 November 2020

Whistle-blowers Cynthia Stimpel and Masimba Dahwa at the Zondo Commission during former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni's testimony. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

South African Airways’ whistle-blowers Cynthia Stimpel and Dr Masimba Dahwa were at the Zondo Commission last week to witness former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni and ex-board member Yakhe Kwinana being called to account. Five years on, the airline’s former group treasurer and head of procurement are still trying to pick up the pieces. As they listened to the two women who destroyed their careers, what was their reaction?

Melody Emmett

Displaying signs reading: Lying! Lying! Lying! No integrity, Conflict of interest – SAA whistle-blower Cynthia Stimpel staged a solitary protest in the foyer of the Zondo Commission. 

“I wanted to do a passive protest when I saw that Ms Myeni and Miss Kwinana were going to be on at the Zondo,” she told Daily Maverick.  

Cynthia Stimpel protests outside the Zondo Commission during testimony by former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

“I thought that every time they lie or say something that contravenes what their duties were as directors, I would put up a sign. Unfortunately, we can’t do it in Zondo so I am holding them up here. 

“They have shown no integrity as directors, no duty of care, no diligence,” the former group treasurer said.

For Masimba Dahwa, seeing Myeni arrive with three lawyers triggered a traumatic event.  

“It brought very fresh memories of how she forced me out of South African Airways. They had to get three external lawyers – I think two of them were advocates coming from Sandton, driving these big cars, big salaries and everything… just to fire somebody who didn’t do anything wrong. 

“I was unprotected; I didn’t even have a single lawyer. It brought back some terrible memories of how Ms Myeni treated me… three senior lawyers and I just wanted to speak the truth.” 

Stimpel was given a six-month salary settlement by SAA in 2016 after preventing a corrupt deal which would have given Myeni and her associates R250-million.

Dahwa was suspended at the end of 2015 for refusing to follow Myeni’s instructions to set aside 30% of a procurement budget for select companies and illegally awarding a R1.5-billion contract to  Swissport and its BEE partner. 

Both whistle-blowers, who testified before the Zondo Commission in June 2019, have been unable to find jobs since leaving SAA. 

Dahwa, who has specialist skills in his field and is a fellow of the global professional body, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, said: “I have worked all over the world… I have never lost a job. I have never been dismissed.   

“I have always held leading positions and have never been fired for any irregularities. The trauma doesn’t go away. We are still suffering.” 

Stimpel, whose story will be published by Tafelberg in 2021, said she had to constantly revisit the trauma while writing her book.

“I don’t think one ever gets over it. It affects you unexpectedly. For Masimba, seeing Ms Myeni’s three lawyers reminded him of the past. 

“My question is: how can she afford it when she has no money?

“You can imagine somebody still having the luxury to bring three lawyers to the Zondo Commission. I can’t afford a meal. At the moment I can’t even look after my own children,” Dahwa added. 

He said he had hoped for some indication of remorse (from Myeni), but “I don’t see any change in behaviour… I don’t see any remorse; I don’t see any change from extravagance and lying and acting irresponsibly.

“If only they could say: ‘In hindsight, after reflection, what we did was bad.’ ”

A Seventh-day Adventist, Dahwa likened the moment when he received a call from the Zondo Commission – four years after his dismissal – to the parable of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. 

Stimpel, a Catholic, says she has also been sustained by her faith. She went on a 40-day pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago before deciding what action to take following her dismissal.

Kwinana disputed Dahwa’s testimony before the Zondo Commission and denied attending a meeting in which, according to Dahwa, Kwinana and Myeni threatened him and told him that the EFF would protest for him and other ‘foreigners’ to be removed if he did not acquiesce to their demands. 

“I don’t know how she (Kwinana) relates to the locals, but she has this hate for people of other nationalities. 

“As a leader, you serve the interests of the nation, not your personal interests. I was not her servant, but that is how she treated me.  

“Even when I refused to do things and said, my conscience doesn’t allow me to do this, it was because I was looking at the implications of my behaviour for the whole of society… I was working for South Africa,” he said. 

Kwinana was questioned about a malicious letter she had written, alleging that Dahwa was conspiring against the SAA board and was “part of a sinister retrogressive agenda” intent on obstructing government’s plans for transformation. 

Stimpel and Dahwa, together with other whistle-blowers, are in the early stages of founding an organisation to assist and support whistle-blowers, who they believe are going to be needed more than ever in the future. 

Dahwa (a Zimbabwean) “does not share the agony of the people of South Africa”, Kwinana wrote.

Judge Zondo challenged her: “This is a person from Zimbabwe… This is an African person that you are talking about, Ms Kwinana.

“While you are trying to empower economically black people in South Africa, you are saying he is doing his best to keep African people in economic bondage?”

Stimpel told Daily Maverick: “I think Ms Kwinana was put in there for a purpose. She is a chartered accountant and owns her own company, playing in the space of financial accounting.  

“She should have had more of an understanding of her fiduciary duties as a director, but she didn’t. 

“I feel she was put there for a clear purpose of misappropriating funds. And the same with Ms Myeni… I have no doubt.”

When her turn came, Myeni said: “I prefer not to answer this question. Because my focus is dealing with poverty, inequality and all the other problems facing me as a woman leader.” 

During her testimony, she deliberately revealed the identity of a protected witness and repeatedly declined to answer questions, claiming the right not to incriminate herself. She has argued that a false narrative has been created that certain leaders are corrupt.

“Where is the Ubuntu… where is this blackness that they so much like to talk about,” Dahwa said. 

“I am black and she did not empower me. I would like her to pause for a moment and think about what she has done to me, to my children, to my grandchildren, to my parents…” 

Stimpel says the Zondo Commission has raised awareness among the public of the extent of government corruption, especially since the Covid-19 lockdown. 

“People are at home and they are watching. People are thinking now; why is there no money in our country? They want to know.  

“There has been a change… For myself and Masimba and all the other whistle-blowers. It’s a good thing that (Kwinana and Myeni) are publicly putting themselves to shame.”

Stimpel and Dahwa, together with other whistle-blowers, are in the early stages of founding an organisation to assist and support whistle-blowers, who they believe are going to be needed more than ever in the future. 

“They must be able to have recourse to very good lawyers; they must be able to have peace of mind that they are not going to lose their homes; they must know that there will not be consequences for their children and their education, and they must have access to medical aid. 

“If I go into a depression and it is exacerbated, I will end up needing psychiatric help if I can’t see a doctor because I haven’t got money. We are looking at a holistic way of helping whistle-blowers,” she said.

Do the two whistle-blowers feel vindicated?

“Not yet,” Stimpel said. “We want to see people being charged… then we will feel vindication. 

“They are standing there saying they acted in the best interests of the organisation. Blatant lying! I believe they need to be charged and once they are charged we will feel vindication, because right now we are the ones sitting at the back end.”

Dahwa quoted a Shona proverb: “Chisi hachiyeri musi wacharimwa”, which means: “Working in the fields on prohibited days may have no effect on the day the seeds are sown, but may cause serious consequences in future.”

“What goes around, comes around,” Stimpel said. DM168

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All Comments 15

  • What incredibly brave and morally upright people! The nation owes them great gratitude for exposing the shenanigans and corruption of these state capturers, who have brought this country to its knees. They should be honored, like all whistleblowers and a law passed to protect them and reward them. This has to be done because it is right!!

  • Great article, thanks. Terrible to see how ongoingly difficult it is for good people trying to do the right thing. Thank you Mrs Stimpel and Dr Dahwa for trying to help others who do the same honorable thing.

  • The SA government are punishers of honest whistleblowers when they deny them reward and safety. Shame kwinana & myeni you’re disgrace.

  • Yes we should honour them… with support. Intrigues me that all these rich corporates have not offered them a job? Surely it would be a great PR coup AND add value to their company by having people of proven morals and integrity working for them? OR… Are they scared they might expose the shenanigans that occur in their organisations on a daily basis??
    I for one will support their whistle blower support organisation. This should be supported by big business AND government and proceeds from asset forfeiture could be used too.

    • Sad to see that some corporates view Ms Stimpel and Dr Dahwa as trouble makers rather than honest people who were only doing their jobs within policies and guidelines.

      Agree with you on supporting any organisation they set up to assist other whistle blowers. Proceeds from asset forfeiture is a very good suggestion.

  • If illegally entered contracts can be set aside, why can’t firings be ruled illegal? If it is only a matter of litigation and litigation costs, I suggest a system of review, such as by an ombudsman, to consider the documents and interview the victim. If the case has merit, the victim gets financial support for litigation, from the respective company or the state.

  • Dennis – Myeni and Kwinana have no shame, morals, ethics or integrity. Just deceit and rapacious greed like Zuma and co. who don’t give a damn about the next man or country, besides their family and friends. It is really sad that most of the SAA staff that have lost jobs etc. probably will not blame this gang of thieves for the demise of SAA and their livelihoods, but rather play the race card, unfair competition etc. It seems well nigh impossible for them and the masses to connect the dots and they will keep on voting for the same anc criminal syndicate that it has become over the last 10 to 12 years. And still wonder why their lives are miserable.

  • It is terrible to see the virtuous sink and the evildoers rise. This article highlights another frightening consequence of the corruption in our government: the fact that honourable citizens are left dishonoured, penniless and jobless while the corrupt seem impervious. It reveals a desperate need for effective action and support for whistleblowers. I’m sure there are companies out there keen to employ such people and keen to help build whistleblower support orgsnisations.

  • I’ve read this, again, and again, and again, spread over some 20 hours. I would be honoured to meet them. My God, how did South Africa declined so much that not even the best of the brave and honesty do not get the recognition they deserve from the the most important in Government, including the President. To me, they are the real heroes of this divided country, more so that any politician, sports person, or any other. Dr Dahwa, Mrs Stimpel, I applaud you with incredible sincerity, and wish you well.

  • DM, I applaud u for this article, the same day as Ace Mag…… appears in court (It irritates me just to mention his name). Surely, u have the means to take this story forward, either with the commission itself, or the presidency?

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