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Putting your neck on the line shouldn’t jeopardise your living or life, say whistleblowers

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A group of whistleblowers – many of whom testified at the Zondo Commission – have called for the establishment of an Office of the Whistleblower, to provide better protection and support for those who expose wrongdoing.

Whistleblowers urgently need more support and protection, says a new organisation set up to champion the needs of those who make protected disclosures.

On Friday, 14 January the Whistleblowers for Change (many of whom testified at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture) held a media briefing, decrying the lack of protection for whistleblowers and calling for an overhaul of the Protected Disclosures Act, which they say does not protect them.  

In a statement read out by members of the organisation, they said they have suffered considerable prejudice as a result of actions embarked upon by those involved in wrongdoing. “We all blew the whistle in the public interest, but this is by no means only about the state. Some of us have worked in large corporate business institutions that have also failed to live up to their espoused values and commitments. Our experience has demonstrated that corruption in our country is as much a private sector phenomenon as it is a public sector scourge.”

The statement goes on to call for civil society and the state to work together to bring those responsible for crimes to book, for professional bodies to hold their members to their codes of practice and fiduciary duties, and criminalise acts of retaliation against whistleblowers.

The whistleblowers say that if the Zondo Report is acted on expeditiously, “it will stem the tide of the delegitimisation of the state”, pointing out that core state institutions such as the South African Police Services, the Hawks and the Independent Policing Investigating Directorate, Parliament, government departments (especially those responsible for health and higher education), the South African Revenue Service and the National Prosecuting Authority have been “weakened and eviscerated”. Whistleblowers have not only lost their livelihoods, but many had to flee the country in fear of their lives.

Referring specifically to the reforms they would like to see in the Public Disclosures Act, they are demanding:

  • Compensation for whistleblowers, for loss of income, savings, pensions, reputations and other resources.
  • An expanded list of people and entities to whom a whistleblower may make protected disclosures to.
  • Legal protection for those to whom such disclosures are made, to ensure confidentiality and protection for the whistleblower.
  • To bring South African legislation in line with article 32 (2) of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption which says that all signatory states, including South Africa, establish procedures for the physical protection of such people, to the extent where necessary and feasible, relocating them and permitting them, where appropriate, non-disclosure or limitations on the disclosure of information concerning the identity or whereabouts of such persons. “We agree that such an authority or agency can determine a format and procedures for disclosure to the authority. Such procedures should be widely published so that the mechanism for making disclosure is simplified for prospective informants and is readily ascertainable by them.”

Thandeka Gqubule, who blew the whistle on the corruption at the SABC, said that their organisation would approach the courts to change the act if discussions with the Department of Justice do not bear fruit. 

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa raising the importance of whistleblower protection, nothing has been done yet. “We are the people that have had to suffer the consequences of testifying at the State Capture”, said Martha Malebethe Ngoye, who was a whistleblower in the multi-million rand PRASA corruption case. 

According to Bain & Company whistleblower, Athol Williams, the company needed to fully acknowledge and admit to their specific wrongdoing and then work towards reparations and not just make vague apologies. 

Speaking at the event, social worker John Clarke, who has counselled many whistleblowers, said two whistleblowers were not present at the conference in person “because of the psychological impact and stress they had incurred as a result of their whistleblowing”. 

“Whistleblowers should never have to be the last line of defence against corruption,” said Clarke. DM/MC

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