By Karam Singh
First published in The Post

In the past few years, South Africa has witnessed a rise in the number of assassinations of individuals working on politically sensitive cases or those involving grand corruption.

Civil society and society as a whole must stand firmly together against this growing threat, and the government must turn its empty promises of protection and support into action.

To save our country and its people, we must stem the tide against the unwinding of the rule of law. This includes stopping in its tracks the further erosion of the rule of law posed by the assassinations of those who work to enforce consequences for corrupt conduct.

It is the character of our current order that human rights defenders, whistle-blowers, journalists, and political figures are vulnerable to the threats of intimidation and assassination.

The shocking double murder of Cloete Murray and his son Tom widens that circle of threatened individuals, because now professionals working to enforce consequences for financial misconduct must also be included among those requiring special protections.

Cloete Murray was a prominent insolvency practitioner in a specialised professional role, also known as a curator or liquidator of enterprises whose financial affairs require unwinding for a variety of reasons.

Increasingly, what we have seen in this recent period are liquidations of entities implicated in wide-scale and industrial looting or corruption.

Notably, the matters Murray worked on included Bosasa and Trillian – the latter a Gupta-linked company linked to state capture at Eskom and Transnet – as well as other high-profile cases involving prominent corrupt persons and companies from South Africa’s recent history.

They include the estates of Czech gangster Radovan Krejcir and murdered strip club owner Lolly Jackson, and the case of Dave King who settled South Africa’s largest tax case after an 11-year fight.

Not uncommon

This is not the first time such a killing has taken place. In recent times, we have witnessed the murder of prominent Cape Town defence advocate Peter Mihalik, as well as the recent killing of Charl Kinnear, a detective with the police anti-gang unit.

So while such killings are not uncommon, what makes the Cloete and Tom Murray murders remarkable is the proximity of the victims to a number of high-profile corruption cases linked to the state capture project.

As has been speculated broadly, the Murrays may have made enemies of any number of powerful criminal and political interests who could have orchestrated such an audacious killing.

Elsewhere in South Africa, human rights defenders, for example from the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement, have also faced assassination – this has been well documented.

In 2021 in Gauteng, the country was devastated by the murder of Babita Deokaran, gunned down outside her home in Johannesburg. Deokaran was a key witness in an ongoing investigation into corruption at the Gauteng Department of Health.

But while holding key information for the investigation, she was merely doing her job as a chief director of financial accounting.

South Africa does not struggle alone with this phenomenon. We know of various journalists and whistle-blowers worldwide who have been targeted by assassins, such as Daphne Galizia, a Maltese journalist and anti-corruption activist who was killed in a car bomb explosion.

These crimes aim to instil fear into others who want to come forward – but if we succumb, the criminals will have won.

State of fear

There is tension at the moment around the dwindling rule of law in South Africa. It is news to no one that we live in a country with high levels of violent crime.

Coupled with this is the picture that continues to emerge of significant sectors of the economy being disproportionately influenced by organised crime and further, of a grand collusion between organised crime, elements within law enforcement, and some political elites.

While the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture gave us great insights in the modus operandi of the Gupta and Watson families in various schemes and how state capture functioned across several stateowned entities and state departments, the commission did not unveil where and how the enduring linkages remain between organised crime and politically organised society, or the polity. This is a significant stumbling block for law enforcement.

If we are to challenge this increasing climate of fear in the country when it comes to combating corruption, we need to ramp up on all fronts our commitment to greater coherence in our enforcement regime.

We must create systems which can provide protection and incentives to those who seek to fight corruption.

And as a society we need to come out more strongly against a climate which is hostile to attempts to expose corruption and execute meaningful consequences against corrupt conduct.


Practically, this requires us to double down on whistle-blower protection and support, and widen the appropriate risk profiling to others within the counter-corruption value chain who may require special protections.

Creating systems and processes that provide financial incentives for whistle-blowing must now move beyond political posturing to enacting law and policy reform initiatives which can be implemented as a matter of urgency.

In addition, we must continue to work across the board to restore confidence in the integrity and capacity of our law enforcement partners within the police and the prosecution services to effectively execute their enforcement mandates.

As civil society, we must continue to nurture a culture of collective responsibility and active citizenry and find strength and protection in our numbers as we mobilise against a creeping kleptocracy and mafia state.

The challenges before us are not easy, but we must remain optimistic that as a society, our revulsion and rejection of violent intimidation will hold firm.

We must remain committed that such violence will not deter our efforts to counter corruption and retain a semblance of the rule of the law, bolstered by the promise of our Constitution and the democratic values of equality and a better life.