Whistleblowing shouldn’t be a death sentence — activists

Sowetan Live | Kgaugelo Masweneng | 24 August 2023

The effect of whistleblowing on those brave enough to speak up took centre stage at the two-year memorial service held by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation for slain Babita Deokaran on Wednesday.

Civil society organisations, Gauteng health officials, family and friends gathered in Mondeor, south of Johannesburg, to reflect on the life of Deokaran and what needs to be done to ensure those who blow the whistle on corruption are protected.

Six men were jailed this week for between six and 22 years for her murder.

Cynthia Stimpel, who became a whistleblower on suspicious transactions that saved SAA R250m while she was a financial risk manager, said there is a lot that needs to be done to promote whistleblowing and protect those who speak out.

“Whistleblowers become physically and mentally ill. After you do it you can’t pay bills, lose your car, your house, can’t afford to pay for school of your children, you have stress.

“It’s a long-term effect you can’t get out of. Some lose their marriages and even loss of custody of their children, some commit suicide,” Stimpel said.

The justice department is reviewing the Protected Disclosures Act and Witness Protection Act to improve protection of whistleblowers.

Stimpel said a lot needs to change for these to be effective. First, the definition of who is a whistleblower needs to be rewritten to extend the scope, and disclosures should be made by anyone who sees suspicious behaviour, not just employees.

“Not enough is done about the bullying tactics employees and employers have towards whistleblowers. There should be sanctions for senior officials who avoid or hide disclosures when they are presented to them,” she said.

“The protection should be extended to more than close family members. There should also be an office that deals with alerts and an ombud’s office.

“There should be a fund for them, though many argue there shouldn’t be any reward for it, but people who have done the right thing and suffered for it should be compensated.”

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is to pursue Thembisa Hospital officials who resigned in the face of an investigation or disciplinary action by freezing their pension benefits and will institute civil litigation to recover financial losses. This relates to a report compiled by Deokaran on malfeasance at the hospital.

SIU head advocate Andy Mothibi said as the president has signed a proclamation into Thembisa Hospital corruption they will ensure all the companies that unduly benefited are blacklisted.

“We shall not rest until the mastermind is found. There’s work we are doing and we will ensure the work done by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks continues. We have identified those we need to go after through asset freezing.

“We need to move speedily because when officials are faced with disciplinary action it’s easy to resign and leave the department. I assure you we are not going to leave any stone unturned,” said Mothibi.

On behalf of Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko reiterated the proclamation reflects a solid commitment to combating corruption within the health sector.

“The president’s action sends an unequivocal message that those who have capitalised on their positions for personal gain will face consequences,” said Nkomo-Ralehoko.

“The SIU, now reinforced with extended powers, is poised to undertake thorough investigations to uncover the complexities of corruption that may have taken root within the realm of healthcare.”