City Press | Tebogo Khaas | 22 October 2023
The decision an individual makes to blow the whistle on wrongdoing is daunting and often invites negative social and workplace consequences for them.
As a society, we need to change that by encouraging and destigmatising whistleblowing while we acknowledge and celebrate those who do it.
The upcoming Whistleblower Awards gala, scheduled for Thursday, 26 October, has the noble purpose of honouring individuals who have exhibited remarkable courage and patriotism by exposing corruption and maladministration.
The event also serves as a reminder to government and corporations of the essential need to strengthen their whistleblowing systems, ensuring a safe environment and protecting the jobs and wellbeing of those who expose criminal activities. In a nation where corruption and unethical practices have had far-reaching consequences, the role of whistleblowers cannot be underestimated.
In a recent incident, senior managers at the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) thwarted its commissioner, Teboho Maruping, and director-general of the department of employment and labour, Thobile Lamati’s allegedly irregular and unlawful appointment of newly established company Thuja Capital, owned by Mthunzi Mdwaba, the former chairperson of the UIF’s sister company, Productivity SA.
The vigilance, integrity and courage of the senior managers who blew that whistle saved billions of rands earmarked to provide sustenance to unemployed, indigent workers. The UIF also helps combat South Africa’s staggering levels of unemployment by funding labour-intensive projects.
The national purse would have been considerably lighter, at the expense of “BEE askaris” and greedy, opportunistic tenderpreneurs.
I was taken aback – in fact, I nearly fell off my cherished Gomma-Gomma sofa in astonishment – when I read about Mdwaba’s rather audacious attempt to draw a parallel between his ambitious project and the legendary success stories of Silicon Valley icons such as Microsoft, Facebook and Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial ventures.
Those titans achieved what they did through sheer hard work, ingenuity and brilliant, but ethical, business practices. They never dipped into vulnerable workers’ funds to sustain a fantastical BEE ménage à trois.
This incident underscores the vital importance of whistleblowing and the need to protect those who come forward. Those who expose malfeasance often risk retaliation, ostracisation by their employers and colleagues and even – in extreme cases – their lives. This could well deter people from speaking out.
The need for whistleblowing extends far beyond corporate executives and employees; it is a fundamental aspect of safeguarding public interests and ensuring accountability at all levels of society.
PLUNDER OF PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE:A LOOMING CRISIS
One of the most pressing challenges faced by South Africa is the rampant plunder of public infrastructure, particularly in the railway and electricity sectors.
What makes this issue even more distressing is the culture of silence that persists within communities who witness criminal activities or wrongdoing. This lack of engagement is especially concerning given that disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of the consequences, such as cable theft, and damaged electrical transformers and railway tracks.
The consequences of this inaction are clear when we read about attacks on Eskom and City Power engineers attempting to repair damaged electrical infrastructure such as transformers and streetlights, which are crucial for communities.
In many instances, the culprits behind these attacks are known to their communities, yet no one dares to come forward.
This begs the question: Has our society become so desensitised to crime that we can watch thieves brazenly rob someone in broad daylight, without intervening or reporting the incident?
WHISTLEBLOWERS AS GUARDIANS OF ACCOUNTABILITY
In a nation where corruption, crime and plunder have reached alarming levels, whistleblowers – and those who support their efforts – are the last bulwark against this nation’s collapse into a failed state.
They are the sentinels who dare to challenge the status quo, exposing wrongdoing and corruption to ensure accountability, transparency and, ultimately, a better future for all South Africans.
As a society, we must recognise their indispensable value and empower them to continue what they are doing without fear of retaliation or harm.
That way, we can build a more accountable, transparent and just South Africa, where voices of integrity and courage prevail over those seeking to undermine the common good. Whistleblowers are the unsung heroes on our journey towards a brighter future.
While the mere hosting of the Whistleblower Awards gala may not ameliorate the hardships endured by these brave souls, nor dislodge those ensconced in cushy public-sector jobs (including their tender-loving comrades), the event will acknowledge the critical role whistleblowers play in combatting corruption and protecting human rights.
English author Scarlett Thomas famously observed:
People make events into stories. Stories give events meaning
And the story of people who expose criminal events in our country has overwhelming meaning for all South Africans.
The nominees in each category have been carefully selected for their unwavering dedication to making our world a better place. We eagerly await the final announcements, which will take place in the coming week.