Why Babita Deokaran was killed: Calls for protection of whistleblowers at documentary premiere

News24 – Cebelihle Bhengu | 22 April 2023

Journalists Jeff Wicks and Mandy Wiener said that South Africa could do more to protect whistleblowers who expose corruption at public and private entities.

Wicks and Wiener were panellists at a discussion on the role of whistleblowers at the premiere of News24’s investigative documentary Silenced: Why Babita Deokaran was murdered.

Wiener, the author of The Whistleblowers, said people who exposed corruption “were pushed to the fringes of society” and did so at the expense of their safety and psychological well-being.

She said the legislative overhaul of the Protected Disclosures Act, which governs whistleblowers, and accountability for perpetrators of corruption were among the solutions for endemic corruption in the country.

She said:

Aside from the legislation, we need to make sure that our criminal justice system functions and that murder is not an alternative. There are many instances in which whistleblowers are unemployed and pushed to the fringes of society. We also need a societal revolution about how we treat whistleblowers. They should be protected and celebrated.

Wicks, a News24 investigative journalist, has produced a series of exposés titled Silenced. The articles lay bare rampant corruption at Tembisa Hospital on the East Rand and delve into suspicious payments flagged by Gauteng health department official Babita Deokaran before she was murdered in August 2021.

Wicks said his investigation into Deokaran’s murder was the hardest story he’d worked on in his career. He lamented the police’s delayed response in arresting the masterminds who ordered her assassination, saying this increased the possibility of perpetrators getting rid of the evidence.

He added:

They move at such a glacial pace that time erodes memory and allows people to disburse assets and destroy evidence. As much as this documentary should be a tribute to Babita, her sacrifice and other whistleblowers, it should put police and law enforcement agencies to shame.
Asked what could be done to protect whistleblowers, Wicks commended journalists who protected their sources and the work of organisations like The Whistleblower House, which supports corruption busters.

He said while more could be done, he was optimistic that the growing understanding of the importance of whistleblowers would foster positive change.

“We are only now understanding the extent of the issue when it comes to the lack of whistleblower protection,” he added.

Martha Ngoye, a whistleblower who exposed corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), recounted her difficulties as a corruption buster.

The reality is that we have been on our own. I have been at the forefront, trying to get the Department of Justice to change the legislation. I know it’s not going to happen. It is what it is. This government is not willing to do anything about protecting whistleblowers. It’s just lip service.
Ngoye, who has a young daughter, said she could relate to Deokaran’s story because she, too, lived in fear for her safety.

“Babita’s death will not be in vain for as long as some of us are alive. [From] here on end, we will raise our concerns,” she said.