Search
Close this search box.

Opinion: GNU must prioritise empowering whistle-blowers and strengthening anti-corruption fight

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

Dr Anthony Kaziboni is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg.

They recently published an opinion article that first appeared in the Daily Maverick on 03 July 2024.

In the aftermath of State Capture, which cost the country around R1.5-trillion during Jacob Zuma’s second term in office, corruption continues to be a significant hurdle for South Africa, affecting both the public and private sectors.

South Africa comes face-to-face with a new government of national unity (GNU) for the first since the 1994 general election – a GNU which lasted up until the 1999 general election, although its second-largest constituent, the National Party, withdrew in 1996.

The new GNU will have to contend with many systemic issues such as corruption, maladministration and poor governance – issues with which the ANC has struggled.

The focus of the GNU should reside on addressing serious structural deficiencies within the state and restoring citizen’s trust in the government, as well as building broader international community confidence in South Africa. In doing so, it would contribute to a more stable South Africa that can produce an environment conducive to socioeconomic development.

Triple challenges

South Africa is classified as a lower-middle-income country. Yet, the reality for many people resembles life in underdeveloped nations as they grapple with the triple challenge of high poverty, inequality and unemployment.

A banner calling for President Ramaphosa to support whistle-blowers.
A banner calling for President Ramaphosa to support whistle-blowers. (Photo: marshallelearning.com / Wikipedia)

More than half (55.5%) of the population – 30.3 million – live below the national upper poverty line (R992). Additionally, 25% (13.8 million) experience food poverty, highlighting a struggle to afford basic necessities. Abject poverty is mirrored by opulence – with a Gini coefficient of 0.67, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world.

This is further compounded by corruption, which is an ongoing issue in South Africa. An investigation conducted by Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke in 2023 uncovered severe financial irregularities in municipalities. Looking at a sample of municipalities, it uncovered approximately R5.2-billion in irregular spending, highlighting systemic corruption in the country.

In the aftermath of State Capture, which cost the country around R1.5-trillion during former president Jacob Zuma’s second term in office, corruption continues to be a significant hurdle for South Africa, affecting both the public and private sectors.

Beyond the estimated R27-billion annual drain on South Africa’s GDP, corruption stifles job creation, with reports suggesting it hinders the generation of over 76,000 potential jobs on an annual basis.

A vicious cycle

Corruption disproportionately harms indigent communities, relying heavily on work opportunities, social welfare and development programmes, and the provision of basic services.

When corruption flourishes, resources for these communities are diverted for personal gain. This deepens existing inequalities, stifling social development and progress. It is a vicious cycle that traps people in indignity, despair and chronic poverty.

Currently, the Eskom grid appears to be stable; however, power outages can start at any time. Deteriorating water services also compound the difficulties faced by people.

It is, of course, not only public corruption that contributes to worsening social problems but also misconduct arising from private capital and interests.

So, what presents itself as a mechanism for the new GNU to address this debilitating corruption?

Whistle-blowing is one such mechanism that can be instrumental in promoting transparency, accountability and social development, and thus addressing corruption.

By exposing wrongdoing, whistle-blowers can spark investigations leading to prosecutions, ultimately deterring future corruption, and turning the tide.

However, despite being an effective weapon, whistle-blowing often comes at an immense cost for the whistle-blowers in myriad forms of retaliation, including social and work-related, lawfare and even physical, which has, in several cases, resulted in injury and death.

Murder of Babita Deokaran

A prominent example of whistle-blower retaliation is the case of Babita Deokaran, the Gauteng Department of Health whistle-blower assassinated in 2021. Such grievous acts discourage people from coming forward, possibly perpetuating the cycle of corruption.

Whistle-blower Babita Deokaran, a Gauteng Health Department official, was gunned down outside her Johannesburg home in 2021 after exposing corruption. (Photo: Facebook)
Whistle-blower Babita Deokaran, a Gauteng Health Department official, was gunned down outside her Johannesburg home in 2021 after exposing corruption. (Photo: Facebook)

As South Africa celebrates 30 years of democracy and its first GNU since the 1994 general election, confronting the enduring challenges of poverty, inequality and the legacy of past injustices remains critically important.

In this pivotal moment, exploring the role of whistle-blowers in combating corruption and advancing social development in South Africa becomes crucial.

The GNU should prioritise developing best practices and actionable strategies to empower whistle-blowers, strengthen anti-corruption efforts, and pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

When examining whistle-blowing’s role in exposing corruption and promoting accountability in South Africa, the GNU must address the mechanism by breaking it down into several actionable steps.

Dialogue is essential

A critical first step would be evaluating existing legal frameworks and whistle-blower protection mechanisms. South Africa’s current legislative protections are inadequate, highlighting the need for stronger advocacy. This should be accomplished through a collaborative effort involving civil society, academia, public servants and private individuals and businesses, alongside current and former whistle-blowers.

Furthermore, discussions about tackling challenges and opportunities in South Africa can prove invaluable. The GNU needs to unpack the concept of State Capture, examining its legacy and impact on public trust and anti-corruption efforts.

This will help us understand how State Capture occurred. It must be emphasised that private-sector fraud and corporate corruption cannot be neglected either.

Civil society groups demand protection for anti-corruption whistle-blowers.
Civil society groups demand protection for anti-corruption whistle-blowers. (Photo: marshallelearning.com / Wikipedia)

As a result of facilitating the aforementioned dialogue, policy recommendations manifesting in actionable references for enhancing whistle-blower protection laws and mechanisms could be attained.

Moreover, it could raise awareness about whistle-blowing’s importance and impact on social development while simultaneously advocating for whistle-blowers’ rights.

Awareness and advocacy would likely lead to recommendations for effective whistle-blower support. On a collaborative level, such dialogue can possess the impetus for collaboration among stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organisations, media and the private sector. However, adequate research would need to be conducted to identify research gaps and priorities related to whistle-blowing, corruption and social development in South Africa.

If the new GNU were to prioritise such dialogues and measures, the whistle-blower’s experience would become less traumatic, and this would empower others to make disclosures. However, it must be acknowledged that this would likely take time, but every step in the right direction is nonetheless a step.

*The views expressed in this article are that of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.

Share this