Over the three years since the State Capture Investigation Commission began its work, we have heard about the extent to which perpetrators of corruption have concealed their misdeeds.
It has been an extremely complex undertaking to unravel the networks of influence that allowed corruption. Among other things, vast networks of front companies were established to move funds and disguise payments made to people with political connections.
The same patterns have been observed in a series of investigations into corruption being carried out by the Special Investigation Unit, the Directorate for Priority Investigation of Crimes, the NPA Investigation Directorate and others.
As these investigations progressed and the network began to close on those involved, we have seen witnesses threatened, their families intimidated, forced into hiding and even killed.
The murder of Babita Deokaran, a senior financial official in the Gauteng health department, is a stark reminder of how much is at stake in our collective quest to eliminate this cancer from our society.
Although we do not yet know the motive for his murder, he was a key witness in an SIU investigation into the acquisition of personal protective equipment in the department.
The SAPS and the private security teams that detained seven suspects last week are to be congratulated on their work. The file has been transferred to the Hawks, and the investigation will yield more information on why Ms. Deokaran was murdered.
Regardless of the circumstances behind this tragedy, Ms. Deokaran was a hero and a patriot. Like the legions of whistleblowers who, at great risk to themselves, help uncover cases of wrongdoing, mismanagement, cronyism and theft.
Without your courageous, principled interventions, we would not be able to expose those who commit acts of corruption. While much attention has been paid to whistleblowers in the public sector in recent times, we also owe a debt of gratitude to those in the private sector whose actions receive less attention, but are just as important.
Whistleblowers are important guardians of our democracy. They raise the alarm against unethical acts and practices in government and organizations.
They speak in good faith and with a reasonable expectation not only that action will be taken on their disclosures, but that they will be protected and will not suffer victimization or prejudice.
In South Africa, there is extensive legislative protection for whistleblowers, including through the Protected Disclosure Act, the Labor Relations Act, the Companies Act, the Protection Against Harassment Act and the Constitution itself.
Additionally, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, administers the Office of Witness Protection to provide support to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in any court proceeding.
Entering witness protection is voluntary and neither the SAPS nor the NPA can compel a witness to do so. If a witness receives death threats or feels unsafe, they should inform investigators and apply for admission to the program. This successful program has played a key role in achieving successful prosecutions since its inception, particularly with regard to organized crime.
It is clear that as the fight against corruption gathers momentum, we must urgently review our current approach not only to witness protection, but also to the broader protection of whistleblowers.
While there are numerous systems in place to allow whistleblowers to report anonymously, we must strengthen existing systems and provide greater support to those who report publicly.
As a society, we must identify where existing laws and policies are inadequate to protect whistleblowers’ livelihoods, reputations and safety, and work together to address them.
The intent of criminals targeting whistleblowers is not only to silence certain people, but also to send a message to other potential whistleblowers.
Day by day, brave South Africans like Babita Deokaran are adamant that they will not be part of the corruption and are ready to testify against it.
As the South African people, we salute her and all the whistleblowers from the public and private sectors who are exposing corruption to the harshest eyes. They do it without expecting recognition or reward. His is the highest form of public service.
We cannot disappoint them. We must, and will, ensure that your disclosures result in prosecution and do much more to ensure that they are protected from harm.
As South Africans, we want to send a strong message that we will not be intimidated. Those behind the murder of witnesses and whistleblowers will be arrested and face the power of the law, as will everyone found guilty of the very corruption that these killers are trying to cover up.