Boosting whistle-blower protection in SA is urgent and will ultimately set them free

It is because of their disclosures that whistle-blowers have lost their freedom of movement, their freedom of choice, and in extreme cases, their freedom to live.

In John Irving’s first novel, Setting Free the Bears, Hannes and Siggy’s youth rebellion in post- World War 2 Austria revolves around a plot to liberate the bears of the Vienna Zoo. To say that the novel is merely about rebellion would, of course, be far too simplistic. Its themes are much deeper and deal with freedom versus captivity. In the novel, the animals of the Vienna Zoo truly do desire freedom, but this desire for freedom also extends to the everyday lives of human beings.

South African whistle-blowers’ experiences are not far different to those of the protagonists of Irving’s novel. They appear to be idealists just as Hannes and Siggy are, but they, too, have carried the label of rebel, albeit with much harsher terminology — troublemaker, snitch, tattle tale, impimpi.

And although the derogatory labelling cast upon whistle-blowers has been a harsh form of retaliation, it is the lost freedoms that have cruelly impacted these whistle-blowers’ lives. It is because of their disclosures that they have lost freedom of movement, freedom of choice, and the freedom to live.

“Stan” and “John”, after their Gupta Leaks exposé, had to flee South Africa under cover, in fear for their lives. They lost their freedom to move to their own country in order to keep their freedom to live.

Read more in Daily Maverick: #GuptaLeaks whistle-blowers speak out for the first time

Athol Williams faced the same fate as he exposed how Jacob Zuma used Bain & Company to drain large amounts of money from the South African Revenue Service.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Athol Williams: ‘I will continue whistle-blowing and making the corrupt uncomfortable’

Bianca Goodson and Mosilo Mothepu’s disclosures that detailed Trillian’s involvement in State Capture resulted in a loss of choice for both. They had rendered themselves unemployable because of their disclosures, limiting their choice to work. Mosilo, fearing for her life, lost the freedom of movement, often secluding herself within her home.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bianca Goodson and Mosilo Mothepu

Altu Sadie also lost the freedom of choice, as a consequence of blowing the whistle on improprieties that occurred within the West African Ecobank. He had to resort to opening up a small coffee shop on the West Rand of Johannesburg to ensure the survival of his family.

Lives in turmoil

The worst consequence is that of losing the freedom to live. Babita Deokaran is one such prominent example. She was assassinated in a rain of bullets after dropping her child off at school because she was about to detail the abuse of Covid pandemic equipment and relief funds in the Gauteng Health Department.

One could present the argument that some whistle-blowers have emerged relatively unscathed after their disclosures. At face value, Simphiwe Mayisela would appear free of all burdens after his disclosure that uncovered irregularities within the Public Investment Corporation (PIC). But this is not the case.

Once a prime candidate for any job in cyber security, Simphiwe’s choice has become limited and, as a result, he had to start his own consultancy firm. Furthermore, the emotional scars of the public reprimand that he experienced at the hands of the PIC Commission of Inquiry (for sharing information regarding the apparent wrongdoing with the police) likely ran deep.

Cynthia Stimpel who, with her disclosure, stopped a dodgy R256-million deal from occurring at South African Airways (SAA), would also appear to be leading a life full of freedoms, now in a key position at The Whistleblower House. However, she also suffered immensely.

The trauma of her disclosure took a significant toll on her. Her former colleagues and friends turned their backs on her when she made her disclosure. She was labelled a “defiant SAA Treasurer” and, as a consequence, lost her freedom to work in the area for which she had spent her life studying and training. She was, however, fortunate and resourceful enough to eventually find a role supporting other whistle-blowers.

Whistle-blowers need essential protections

By setting free the whistle-blowers, we could likely avoid the fates experienced by previous generations. However, the freedoms need to be established and certain, not like the fate of the animals in Irving’s novel who were captured shortly after being set free.

To accomplish this, whistle-blower legislation needs to be revised by making provisions for adequate whistle-blower protection. Guidance for legislative revision should be found in trusted global instruments, and the effective provisions of those instruments that have been proven to work.

Civil society’s role, despite already having played a part in supporting South African whistle- blowers, should become more pronounced. This could be achieved by civil society organisations pooling their resources and working together to support whistle-blowers.

Media outlets and civil society organisations should also further collaborate to advocate for whistle-blowers. The role of academia should also not be negated, and scholars in the field of whistleblowing could provide insight into effective legislative revisions and support structures for whistle-blowers.

Past whistle-blowers should also play a role by aiding in developing further strategies for the support of future whistle-blowers, based on their own experiences.

But, to truly set the whistle-blowers free, a centralised agency would need to be established to efficiently organise these resources and reduce fragmentation. Maybe this would help future whistle-blowers avoid the fate of Babita Deokaran, much like we wish Siggy would have avoided his death in Setting Free the Bears.

In fulfilling its role in accomplishing the aforementioned, the SARChI Chair in Social Change at the University of Johannesburg is hosting a panel discussion seminar on 10 October 2023, aptly titled Setting Free the Whistleblowers, with experts presenting. DM

The UJ seminar on 10 October 2023 with Cynthia Stimpel, Prof Ian Bron and Prof Tina Uys, and chaired by Dr Ugljesa Radulovic, will run from 14:00-17:00 at the Kerzner School of Tourism and Hospitality, Auckland Park Bunting Road Campus, University of Johannesburg. RSVP Lorna Singh –

Dr Ugljesa Radulovic is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg.

Structure of the essay

1. Introduction

The introduction should present the topic of the essay. In other words, what it is that you are discussing and how you will approach the essay.
Approximately 200 words.

2. Contextualising whistleblowing in South Africa

Briefly discuss the role that whistleblowers have played in combatting corruption in South Africa, and advancing democracy in the country. Explain how they have been marginalised and subjected to retaliation by those with power (particularly think of this in the context of a, now powerless, black female like Mosilo Mothepu).
Approximately 300 words.


3. Whistleblowing and conformity to organisational norms

Explain whether whistleblowers, in the South African case study, conformed to procedural, role and cultural norms of the organisation.
Approximately 400 words.

4. Power and whistleblowing

Explain the different kinds of positional and personal power that the whistleblowers, in the South African case study, possessed. How would each form of power have encouraged them to engage in the act of disclosure?
Approximately 400 words.

5. Cohesion and whistleblowing

Explain how excessive cohesion, and as a result conformity, could have negatively influenced others to not speak up. This could explain why whistleblowers tend to act alone. In what scenario would cohesion positively influence others to act with those making a disclosure.
Approximately 400 words.

6. Group polarisation and groupthink

What role does group polarisation and groupthink play in discouraging others from supporting whistleblowers and leaving them to act alone? Examine this in the context of group members shifting their opinion to what they perceive to be the consensus.
Approximately 400 words.

7. Social support for whistleblowers

Discuss how each of the five different types of social support can be used to help whistleblowers cope throughout their disclosures (particularly due to whistleblowers typically acting alone).
Approximately 500 words.

8. Conclusion

The conclusion should consist of a summary of the main arguments of the essay and a final reflective comment. You should not introduce ‘new’ issues (issues not dealt with in the body of the essay) in the conclusion.
Approximately 200 words.

Answers to Above Questions on Whistleblowing

The role of whistle blower is crucial in every type of organisation because they are responsible for exposing corruption and unethical practices that are undergoing within the organisation. Because of this particular nature of whistleblowers in an organisation, their position is faced with significant threats and consequences, as they are responsible for exposing fraudulent practices of senior managers. The main focus of this essay is on protecting whistleblowers in South Africa and the ways it can be possible to address the changes faced by them.


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