UJ seminar explores ways to protect whistleblowers

The University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change hosted a seminar titled “Setting Free the Whistleblowers” on Tuesday, October 10, 2023. The seminar brought together past whistleblowers, civil society, and academia to discuss ways to advance the individual resilience of whistleblowers and protect them from retaliation.

Cynthia Stimpel, former SAA whistleblower and Whistleblower Liaison Officer of The Whistleblower House, represented civil society and South African whistleblowers. Prof Ian Bron, a former Canadian whistleblower and adjunct professor at Carleton University in Canada, gave his insights from a whistleblower’s experience and as an international scholar examining the topic. Prof Tina Uys, Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg, presented crucial recommendations as an expert scholar in the field of whistleblowing.

Prof Tina Uys, Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg
Prof Tina Uys, Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg

The seminar featured speakers sharing their insights and professional backgrounds, attracting a diverse group of over 30 in-person attendees from civil society and academia. Notably, both current and former whistleblowers were among the participants. Dr. Ugljesa Radulovic, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at UJ, skillfully moderated the session, fostering a productive exchange between the presenters and the engaged audience.

The narratives and recommendations were able to draw a positive response from the audience, with further input and suggestions being garnered by the people in attendance.

“The whistleblowing session was enlightening. It was sobering to hear firsthand experiences of how individuals who are deeply concerned about the well-being of their fellow human beings – particularly the weak and marginalised – were victimised, shamed and vilified for standing for the truth. While this is disconcerting, it is encouraging to see and hear several individuals who still have a moral compass. I salute all (popular and unpopular) Whistleblowers!” – Dr Kenny Chiwarawara, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Social Change, UJ.

Fuzile Jwara, a Masters Candidate and Tutor in the Department of Sociology at UJ, emphasised the significance of understanding the nature of whistleblowing, which often leads individuals to the fringes of society. He called on academia to reevaluate its own policies and practices for protecting whistleblowers, recognising that whistleblowing is a civic duty and should be a collective responsibility.

Whistleblowing in South Africa

Whistleblowing in South Africa is often a dangerous and thankless task. Whistleblowers often face retaliation from their employers, including job loss, harassment, and even violence. Some whistleblowers have even been killed.

Despite the risks, whistleblowers play a vital role in exposing corruption and wrongdoing. They help to protect the public interest and hold powerful people accountable.

The seminar’s recommendations will be valuable in informing the development of policies and practices to protect whistleblowers and encourage them to speak out against wrongdoing.

About the Centre for Social Change: 

The Centre for Social Change at UJ is dedicated towards the study of social change from below in pursuit of building socially just and democratic societies. Centre’s research agenda strives to connect with the needs of civil society in a changing regional and global context and aims to expand knowledge through cutting edge multi-disciplinary research. The Centre is home to the South African Research Chair in Social Change. Together these two entities have built a track record for conducting research on social movements, protest and strikes in South Africa and beyond. The Centre is home to a diverse set of research interests and projects that converge around the idea that social change that prioritises the needs of the working class in building more equitable societies is necessary.

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