By Mzukisi Makatse
First published on Politicsweb
OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA
Dear President Ramaphosa,
I am an ordinary citizen of no particular significance except for my love and commitment to a functional South Africa and its people. As a result of my ordinary status, I understand that this letter and its contents may never reach your eyes and ears. I get and understand that, but I will write the letter anyway Mr President. I do so with a distant hope that it might somehow find its way through to you and for your attention on the critical matter raised in this letter.
Mr President, my writing this letter to you is also necessitated by the feeling we sometimes get as ordinary citizens that our leaders, including you Mr President, seem to be talking a lot about and above us, but not with us. In any functional democracy, such a state of affairs would be an anomaly. Therefore, Mr President, please indulge me and allow me, with respect, to talk to you about a niggling matter that I feel is of national importance.
Mr President, the matter I wish to respectfully address and bring to your attention is the protection and support for the whistle-blowers in South Africa. I believe this is a critical matter that is not getting the sufficient attention it deserves. Mr President, whistle-blowers are a vital component in any rational and serious fight against corruption. Whistle-blowers risk their lives and that of their families to ensure that our country does not go down the drain as a cesspool of unbridled corruption. They live a life of constant fear and vigilance in case something very bad happens to them and/or their families.
Mr President, as whistle blowers we have suffered a lot of harassment, victimisation and persecution for daring to take a stand and exposing corruption even at the highest echelons of public and private institutions. We have been subjected to the worst forms of abuse that left many of us with psychological scars that should make us doubt the correctness of our decision to expose corruption. Mr President, we have at times been made to feel that we are the villains and scums of the earth just for doing what we believe is the right thing for our country.
I speak with authority here, Mr President, because I have recently been subjected to some of the worst forms of persecution, abuse and victimisation at my last place of employment just for being a whistle-blower [see M&G report here.] After an excruciating period of abuse and persecution from its senior officials the National Lotteries Commission summarily dismissed me without a hearing. They did this because I blew the whistle on unlawful appointments within National Lotteries Commission.
They acted in this brazen unlawful manner because I blew the whistle on the corrupt payment by Lotteries Commission’s senior officials of over R6-million to a certain organisation that did not qualify to be funded. Instead of doing what any rational organisation would have done under the circumstances – to investigate the allegations and follow the letter of the law – my employment was terminated without the law being followed. Needless to say, the consequences of my unlawful dismissal are too gustily for any person to go through.
Mr President, in their desire to silence whistle-blowers, the senior officials in the National Lotteries Commission undermined and wilfully violated our very Constitution which confers a right to fair labour practices to any person in the Republic. They rode roughshod over our laws and the Constitution for the simple reason that they knew they would get away with it. They would get away with it because they knew there were insufficient safeguards to ensure protection and support for the whistle-blowers in the country.
The Protected Disclosures Act is a piece of legislation that is meant to protect us. However, our experiences have demonstrated that this piece of legislation is not enough when people like the National Lotteries Commission’s senior officials are prepared to spend millions of public money litigating against any challenge brought in terms of this legislation.
Mr President, it is commendable that you have predicated your presidency around fighting corruption, state capture and ensuring clean governance. We welcome your renewed energy and focus with your Thuma mina rallying call that permeates our body politic and society in general. It is on the basis of this New Dawn that I believe you can do more to protect and support the whistle-blowers in this country.
Mr President, the whistle-blowers yearn not only for protection and support, but most importantly, they yearn for justice. I know that as a lawyer yourself, you would appreciate the deep sense of justice that must underpin our efforts to protect and support the whistle-blowers. In their daily struggles to fend off victimisation and persecution, the whistle-blowers should be able to count on you, Mr President, that you will do everything to ensure their protection and support by ensuring justice for these unsung heroes of our nation.
It is this understanding and more that compels me to suggest to you, Mr President, that you lead by example and establish a special presidential unit that will countenance and buttress efforts to protect and support whistle-blowers in South Africa. Such a unit can take the form of the various presidential commissions that assist the president in making decisions on a variety of important aspects of government work. Alternatively and for co-ordination purposes across government and state entities, the unit can be placed in the office of the Minister in the Presidency.
Whichever way this presidential unit is constituted, it must make it easier and faster to protect and support whistle-blowers. Critically, such a unit should also ensure that it speedily investigates instances where whistle-blowers complain of harassment, abuse and persecution as a result of their bold stand in exposing corruption.
More essentially, this presidential unit should encourage the formation across the country of a critical army of whistle-blowers ready to expose corruption wherever it rears its ugly head. After all, whistle-blowers are our foot soldiers and a critical defence line in our efforts to root out corruption. They deserve more than just a piece of legislation that can be ignored at will in the quest to destroy whistle blowers.
Mr President, I understand that you are hard at work to ensure the unity of the ANC for the victory of the ANC in the coming elections. I know you also work very hard to attract investors into our country for the growth of our economy to address a plethora of our developmental challenges. I get that, Mr President, and we are fully behind you on those matters.
However, as you are most probably aware, Mr President, it is corruption that is dividing the ANC. It is corruption that cost the ANC in the 2016 local government elections. It is corruption that threatens the victory of the ANC in the upcoming elections. Last but not least, corruption is one of the major reasons that make investors reluctant to come invest in our country.
It is therefore clear, Mr President, that unless we protect and support those who make difficult choices in becoming whistle-blowers against corruption, your work to unite the ANC, ensure victory of the ANC in the coming elections and attracting investors into the country, will be more difficult and most probably end in vain.
• Mzukisi Makatse is an attorney and member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.