South Africa will not win the war against corruption if it does not actively and adequately protect whistle-blowers, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said on 10 November 2021.

“Corruption has become embedded in South African society and it robs the country of the ability to provide its citizens with employment, services and social support by damaging economic activity and growth and siphoning off taxes,” says Foundation CEO Piyushi Kotecha.

On 1 November South Africa lost an upstanding citizen when Athol Williams fled the country in fear for his life after implicating 39 individuals and companies at the Zondo Commission into state capture. In an open letter to South Africans Williams, who recently left his work as a research fellow at the University of Stellenbosch’s Centre for Applied Ethics, cited the August 2021 murder of Gauteng Department of Health official Babita Deokaran as one of the reasons behind his decision to leave the country.

Deokaran was one of several witnesses in a Special Investigating Unit investigation into more than R300-million in tender fraud, for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Williams, who grew up on the Cape Flats, is among the few people to have earned five master’s degrees from five top global universities. He holds a BSc in Engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand; a Master of Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; an MSc in Finance from the London Business School; an MPhil in Political Theory from the University of Oxford; an Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University; and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

He is a published poet, served on the board of a South African literary journal, and is the founder of Read to Rise, a non-governmental organisation that promotes literacy by making appropriate books available to children in poor communities, and of the Cape Flats Book Festival.

In October 2019, Williams exposed corruption at management consultancy Bain & Company, where he was working. He gave evidence that the company had withheld relevant information from the Nugent Commission investigating irregularities at the South African Revenue Service. It was reported in December 2019 that Bain had attempted to buy Williams’s silence, and the Nugent Commission found that Bain did not make full disclosure to it, although Bain has denied these allegations.

“It is unconscionable that citizens who are brave enough to expose corruption, no matter how big or small, are not given the support and protection they need. That they are not gives the lie to the government’s promises to fight corruption from every angle,” Kotecha says.

The Defend our Democracy movement recently launched its United in Action against Corruption campaign, which will be marked with an Anti-Corruption Week running from 3 to 10 December, and taking in International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December.

The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation is a signatory to the Defend our Democracy campaign, and its premise that the low voter turnout in the 1 November local government election is a sign that many South Africans have had their fill of corruption, greed and broken promises.

During the campaign South Africans will be urged to wear orange while they champion the fight against corruption, host lunchtime pickets and sign an integrity pledge, while public servants are encouraged to report any corruption they know of or come across.

“While we endorse these calls, we acknowledge that it takes enormous courage to expose corruption in a country in which whistle-blowers are left to fend for themselves. There are countless tales of people from the public and the private sectors who have blown the lid on corruption only to be abandoned by the government, their superiors and their peers. These are people who should be hailed, yet they lose their livelihoods, and have their and their loved ones’ personal safety threatened. This cannot go on,” says Kotecha.

The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation stands firmly behind Defend our Democracy’s quest to re-engage the public around participatory democracy in which public representatives are held accountable and citizens play an active role in advocating for clean and ethical governance.

Corruption is bleeding South Africa dry. It is directly and indirectly behind our lack of social services and our economic decline. Exposing it is the only way South Africa can halt its political, social and economic decline, and full protection for those who expose it is a vital first step.

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