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GROUNDUP OP-ED

Right the wrongs done to us, argue targeted Lottery whistleblowers

Right the wrongs done to us, argue targeted Lottery whistleblowers
(Photo: whistleblowerslog.org / Wikipedia)

‘We should all stand up and be counted in doing the right thing for our country. It should be that simple.’

The following letter was sent to the chairperson of the National Lotteries Commission, Barney Pityana, and the NLC’s Commissioner, Jodi Scholts, on 2 February. The letter has been very lightly edited.

We respectfully write to you as former employees of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) who lost their jobs for blowing the whistle on irregularities, malfeasance, and corruption at the NLC.

Sello Qhina was based in the Northern Cape office of the NLC, and Mzukisi Makatse was based in the Eastern Cape office. We both had the courage of our own convictions to do the right thing. We refused to be part of the grand-scale thieving, looting and corruption that was taking place within the NLC. We went further and blew the whistle on the deep-seated corruption that was threatening to collapse the NLC. This was after we had raised in vain concerns with our superiors regarding the many irregularities that were prevalent within the NLC. This included our respective provincial managers, then NLC Commissioner, and the then NLC Board Chairperson.

We therefore write to yourselves not to burden your busy schedule, but to respectfully bring an important and urgent matter of our plight as NLC whistleblowers who suffered persecution, victimisation, and occupational detriment. We suffered all this maltreatment within the NLC at the hands of those who today stand accused of very serious corruption that runs into hundreds of millions of rands as exposed by us. Some of these individuals have since resigned from the NLC, others have taken special leave. There are those who are still sticking around with the hope of influencing the narrative in their favour. We hope this will not happen under the watch of the new Commissioner and the current board.

We are also mindful of the fact that had it not been for our tireless efforts as whistleblowers to expose the rot within the NLC, not much would have been uncovered by the media and the SIU. We point out this fact not as a blackmailing tactic, but as a fact of our circumstances.

The much-deserved accolades showered upon the GroundUp journalist, the highly effective Mr Raymond Joseph, were possible because we made it a point to work with him in exposing corruption and maladministration within the NLC. We risked everything to make sure that the facts and truth about the actual happenings at the NLC were known to the country. Our intentions were not to harm the reputation of the NLC, as some have mischievously accused us, but to protect the very reputation and integrity of the NLC operations.

It is because of all this and more that we have decided to pen this communication to yourselves to respectfully bring our plight to your attention. We do this also informed by the commitment made to parliament on 27 September 2022 during the address on the NLC by the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Mr Ebrahim Patel, on the steps to be undertaken by the current board to ensure support for whistleblowers who were threatened or dismissed by the NLC.

Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel. (Photo: Phill Magakoe / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

We also understand and appreciate the work that the new board has undertaken to pull the NLC from the brink of collapse. This is a historic mission for the NLC and we are fully behind it. We want to do everything in our power practically to support the efforts to turn the NLC ship around. We fully appreciate the critically important role of the NLC in alleviating poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment in our country. We are equally mindful of the dangers posed by those who view the NLC as a potential capture site for their own self-enrichment. It is therefore precisely for this reason that we believe we have a positive role to play in this historic mission the NLC board and executive are undertaking.

Becoming NLC whistleblowers was the right thing to do

It has become something of a rare occurrence for many in our country to do the right thing, let alone being whistleblowers. The dangers that are associated with being a whistleblower in South Africa are well documented. These range from persecution, victimisation, intimidation, dismissal from work, bogus and trumped-up criminal charges, to physical harm and assassinations.

As a whistleblower in South Africa, you are made to feel that you are the one on the wrong side of the law. The government, the courts, the police, all do nothing to protect you. You are completely on your own as the perpetrators of wrongdoing bleed you dry. You lose everything. Your home, car, school fees for your children, their clothes, food and their fun activities. In extreme cases you even lose your family and your sanity.


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But in all of these hardships, we persevered and continued to expose the corrupt activities within the NLC. Like many who are today called whistleblowers, we never set out to become whistleblowers. We even knew very little about whistleblowing and its attendant consequences. We were just normal human beings who knew right from wrong, regular employees who did their job with the utmost care. So, we picked up irregularities in our work processes and decided to report these out of our normal duty of care to the employer, NLC. When the employer did not act as it should, we started to raise even more questions.

Eventually, the employer decided to shut us down by suspending and dismissing us. In shock and in disbelief, we looked for more avenues within the NLC and elsewhere to explain ourselves. Only to discover that the network of maladministration and corruption runs deep. The people we thought of highly as principled and committed to the greater good of our country turned out to be in cahoots with thieves. That cut deep to our mortal souls.

Some tried to talk us out of continuing with the course we had chosen. We reflected on their warnings disguised as sympathies. We thought deeply about the plight of our children. Their general welfare and well-being, schooling, and leisure. When the thought about their security and the possible physical harm that might befall them popped into our minds, our souls went cold with fear. Paranoia and fear almost paralysing us. But we reminded ourselves of the fallibility of fear. That until we confronted all our fears head on, they will always rule over us, thus rendering us impotent. But if we confronted our fears head-on, we would rule over them.

However, we are human beings after all. So, doubt, as a younger sibling of fear, would always find its way to us. So, the questions of doubt started haunting us like a spectre. Am I too selfish to sacrifice the security of my kids in pursuit of a lonely and depressing road in search of truth? What is truth anyway? Is the sacrifice worth it? Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is it really for the country? With all these thoughts filling our minds like water filling a tank, our minds felt combustible, as if about to explode.

Accordingly, and as our persecution and suffering intensified, we started experiencing deeper feelings of doubt about the course we had taken. We thought about everything we had worked so hard for up to that point. We could see losing it all in a bonfire we chose to start. Or did the bonfire choose us? At this point, it didn’t matter. We were already in the eye of the storm and there was no turning back. So, we started an inner discussion with ourselves about the worst-case scenario. Then, suddenly, we reconciled ourselves with whatever fate had in store for us. We were not going to let those stealing the future of our country win.

As the NLC whistleblowers we did nothing wrong

In their attempts to vilify us, the corrupt elements within the NLC tried their best to portray us as the incorrigible ones. They told everyone who cared to listen that we were the actual thieves. But the truth is the truth, however few we may be who tell it. And a lie is a lie, irrespective of a great number of people telling it. Therefore, we take this opportunity respectfully to declare to the NLC Board and the new Commissioner, that we did nothing wrong in exposing the truth about corruption, maladministration and looting at the NLC.

We did what many feared to do. We did the right thing. We are proud of the service we rendered to our country, even if our country finds it difficult to reciprocate and honour our service. We would do it all over again if another opportunity presented itself. We are not about to feel guilty or regretful for becoming NLC whistleblowers. If not us, who then? That is the mindset that ought to permeate our country if we are to rid ourselves of the worst elements that threaten the very survival of this country. We should all stand up and be counted in doing the right thing for our country. It should be that simple.

Conclusion

We respectfully wish for the NLC Board and the executive under the stewardship of our new Commissioner to note that, the fact that our justice system, our courts of law and our government at large have failed us as whistleblowers, does not mean that we did anything wrong. This failure can never be a justification for us to be subjected to further trauma as we continue to suffer the indignity of our current circumstances. We have trust in your abilities as the current board and executive of the NLC and hope you will also do the right thing regarding our plight.

Our wish is for the NLC to do justice to our plight and right the wrongs it committed against us. We lost everything because of the injustice the NLC meted against us. We respectfully believe that this must be corrected. We are victims of the NLC, and we have suffered tremendously for our efforts to defend the right of the very NLC to continue to exist and serve our country.

As part of the people who started the engineering of the revolution that is currently taking place within the NLC, we also wish to be part of the historic mission of bringing the organisation back to its original purpose. We have the capacity, the skills, the knowledge, the qualifications, the ability, and the experience to contribute immensely towards this important endeavour. We respectfully wish that we will soon be invited urgently to discuss these matters further to ensure a durable solution that will be underpinned by principles of fairness and justice.

We sincerely hope that justice will be done, though the heavens may fall! DM

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.

First published by GroundUp.

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