Editorial: Protection of whistleblowers is all-important

Johannesburg – The assassination this week of senior Gauteng health department official Babita Deokaran is yet another stark reminder of how whistleblowers have been left to suffer for their huge sacrifice in fighting malfeasance and corruption in the government.

Fift y-three-year-old Deokaran met her painful death in Winchester Hills, Johannesburg, after several bullets were pumped into her upper body shortly after dropping off a child at school.

It has since emerged that Deokaran, who was the chief director of financial accounting in the department and occasionally also acted as the department’s chief financial officer, was a key witness in a special investigating unit (SIU) probe into a personal protective equipment purchase scandal that cost the Gauteng government hundreds of millions of rand in corruption.

Gauteng premier David Makhura has also confirmed that Deokaran had uncovered corruption, stopped the payment of irregular contracts and provided crucial evidence to disciplinary processes conducted by his office and in the SIU investigations.

Like many other brave whistleblowers, Deokaran was never protected after exposing corruption, which left the looters of state resources free to plot her death.

Her murder is yet more evidence that South Africa does not have a strong regime for the protection of whistleblowers.

They are in many instances isolated and targeted if they cannot be co-opted into the system of pillaging public resources.

For their courage, they are subjected to acts of cruelty, which include ill-treatment and harassment. In certain cases, they may even be subjected to disciplinary or criminal proceedings, based on trumped-up charges, because they mostly come up against powerful individuals.

The government must take heed of civil society organisations that have previously lamented the plight of whistleblowers, as well as the lack of legal protection and personal support. This has become extremely urgent in the wake of Deokaran’s assassination.

Although the police must be commended for the speedy arrests in her murder, the government must move with speed to amend legislation and broaden the definition of a whistleblower.

In this regard, we want to align ourselves with civil society formations such as the Active Citizens Movement, which has in recent months called for the setting up of specialised courts to deal with whistleblowing cases.

We do not understand why the government has until now failed to provide witness protection mechanisms for whistleblowers.

It must take a leaf from those countries who provide incentives for whistleblowers through the creation of a fund derived from stolen monies. Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has raised concern that whistleblowers have been left exposed.

We cannot agree more with Zondo when he says South Africa may kiss the fight against corruption goodbye if this is allowed to persist.

And the relentless struggles of many anti-corruption heroes and heroines in our country, such as Babita Deokaran, would have been in vain.

To read more political news and views from this week’s newspaper, click here. 

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