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Corruption: Brave Whistle-Blowers Need Proper Protection

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Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA) – Former ANC Youth League secretary Sindiso Magaqa’s murder was reportedly related to his blowing the whistle on corruption.

By Zelna Jansen

In recent years, there has been an avalanche of information about corruption and state capture. One of the things that stood out was the detrimental consequences suffered by those who blew the whistle on corruption.

Detrimental to the point of loss of life. The trial of the killers of Sindiso Magaqa commenced this week. Magaqa was a former ANC Youth League secretary and ward councillor. He and two friends were shot multiple times in July 2017 while sitting in his car outside a tuck shop in Umzimkhulu, KwaZulu-Natal.

Reports had indicated that Magaqa was recovering in hospital, however, he later complained about stomach pains and died. According to a media report, Thabiso Zulu and Les Stuta alleged that Magaqa’s murder was related to his blowing the whistle on corruption.

Zulu was a friend of Magaqa and known as an anti-corruption activist, while Stuta was an official in the Harry Gwala Municipality. Zulu was ambushed and shot in the arm. It was also reported that neither Zulu nor Stuta were provided protection.

Whistle-blower Babita Deokaran was assassinated in August last year. She was parking her car after dropping off her daughter at school. A car pulled up alongside her and she was shot multiple times. There was a public outcry that the state had not provided her with personal protection.

Whistle-blowing is dangerous and only a few brave souls courageously commit themselves to this fight against corruption. In South Africa, whistle-blowing is regulated by the Protected Disclosure Act (PDA), Labour Relations Act and Companies Act.

Whistle-blowing can be summarised as a term used by law enforcement agencies when a person passes on relevant and reliable information concerning wrongdoing, such as fraud and corruption, to an organisation they trust.

Any person can be a whistleblower when they suspect, witness, or observe actions believed to be illegal, or in contravention of the financial management laws of the country. To receive protection under the PDA, the disclosure must meet the requirements and procedures set out.

The disclosure must be made in good faith and not be motivated by improper or bad motives such as personal gain. The aim of the PDA is to protect employees from retaliation for making the disclosure.

An employer may therefore not discipline, demote, transfer, harass or dismiss an employee without cause where the employee has made a protected disclosure. However, the PDA is silent on what happens to the whistle-blower whose life is in danger. How will a decision on protection be made, what circumstances must be present and who makes the decision?

Police investigations have led to the arrest of six suspects in the Deokaran case. It is alleged that the suspects were hired for the hit on Deokaran. The case is at the stage of bail hearings. The trial of Magaqa’s killers started this week – five years after he was killed.

The accused – Sbonelo Myeza, Mbulelo Mpofana, Mlungisi Ncalane, and Sibusiso Ncengwa – are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, murder, attempted murder, malicious injury to property and unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

Ncengwa was found guilty of another crime of cash-in-transit theft and sentenced to 95 years in prison. A media report stated that accused Myeza is also suspected of an attempted hit on Judge Patricia Goliath.

It makes one wonder who these whistle-blowers are that risk life and limb for the greater good.

Julius Malema made this comment about Magaqa: “Even (with) threats of death … he always remained faithful to his convictions and mission. This very feature about him, his bravery and daring personality, may have robbed us of his youthful life.”

Several whistle-blowers were interviewed for a study. It was found that upbringing, personal values and family support helped them navigate subsequent experiences. Another factor that played a significant role was whether the organisation encouraged whistle-blowers to come forward.

The government must do more to encourage whistle-blowers to come forward. President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that there is a need to urgently review the approach in terms of witness protection.

We hope that is implemented through well-funded or at least sufficiently funded programmes and legislative interventions. Protection for whistle-blowers is essential if South Africa wishes to turn the tide on corruption.

The successful convictions and revelations about the masterminds will further encourage people to come forward. Another recommendation is that whistle-blowers must be rewarded a percentage of monies recovered from corrupt activities.

These recommendations will not bring back the whistle-blowers who have been killed, but honouring them by reviewing policies, legislation and budgets aimed at protecting whistleblowers and witnesses will further encourage people to come forward in the fight against corruption.

Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy.