Date: Feb 25, 2023 Type: Country:

Whistle-blowing: Ramaphosa must act on promise

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime identified a total of 1 971 assassination cases in South Africa between 2000 and 2021. Many of those targeted and killed were whistle-blowers and human rights defenders who had exposed corruption and stood up for the human rights of their communities, as well as all the people in South Africa.

The killings and threats have not ceased, and President Cyril Ramaphosa, during his State of the Nation addresses in 2022 and 2023, correctly pointed out that there was a need for greater protection of whistle-blowers in the country. He said the government was working to capacitate its witness protection unit and would introduce amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act and the Witness Protection Act to better protect informers.

But the time for talk is over. Immediate action is needed. Lives depend on it. Whistle-blowers and human rights defenders are critical in the fight against corruption and for accountability. They expose acts of criminality and abuse by governments, corporations, organisations and individuals. Without whistle-blowers and human rights defenders, evidence of large-scale human rights violations would never surface.

While the country has robust laws designed to protect whistle-blowers, including the Protected Disclosures Act and the Witness Protection Act, gaps in the legislative framework, and problems with the practical implementation of these mechanisms, prevent them from being effective.

This was evident in the case of Babita Deokaran, who was shot dead outside her home in 2021. Deokaran was the chief director of financial accounting at the Gauteng Department of Health. Prior to her death, she had exposed corruption in the procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment. The government failed to provide her with security, and she was brutally killed.

In January 2022, another whistle-blower, Athol Williams, fled the country believing his life was in danger. He had just testified before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State (the Zondo Commission). He claimed he had asked the state for protection, but had not received any.

Patricia Mashale is a suspended senior SAPS administrator in the Free State. She claims her life is under threat after she reported corruption and other crimes taking place within the SAPS. Mashale has been in hiding since February 2022.

In 2018, Amnesty International SA began looking into reports of an assassination plot against two Amadiba Crisis Committee activists, Nonhle Mbuthuma and Twesha Silangwe, who are fighting for the land, environmental and human rights of their community in the Eastern Cape.

The chairperson of the committee, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, was shot dead in 2016. No one has been brought to justice for his murder. Amnesty ran a global campaign calling on the South African government to investigate Rhadebe’s murder. It urged the South African police to take all necessary measures to ensure the members of the committee could carry out their legitimate work of defending human rights in safety, without fear of harassment or attack, and to investigate the death threats against the committee’s leadership.

In 2020, environmental activist and human rights defender Fikile Ntshangase was silenced with six bullets. Ntshangase was part of the Somkhele community, which lives near the Tendele coal mine owned by Tendele Coal Mine (Pty) Ltd, a subsidiary of Petmin.