Cruel, cruel coun­try

Daily Maverick - - FRONT PAGE - By Re­becca Davis

For­mer em­ploy­ees of state-owned en­ter­prises and big cor­po­rates once blew the whis­tle on State Cap­ture, sac­ri­fic­ing their ca­reers and liveli­hood to do the right thing. Many of them are now des­per­ate, des­ti­tute and un­em­ploy­able, re­duced to ex­tend­ing beg­ging bowls to sur­vive.

For­mer em­ploy­ees of state-owned en­ter­prises and big cor­po­rates who blew the whis­tle on State Cap­ture sac­ri­ficed their ca­reers and liveli­hoods to do the right thing. But many of them are now des­per­ate, des­ti­tute and un­em­ploy­able, re­duced to ex­tend­ing beg­ging bowls to sur­vive. By Re­becca Davis

Cyn­thia Stim­pel was the group trea­surer of South African Air­ways (SAA) — un­til she blew the whis­tle on an un­law­ful R256-mil­lion con­tract in 2016 and lost her job. Un­able to find em­ploy­ment else­where, she was giv­ing yoga classes to make ends meet un­til Covid-19 put an end to that mea­gre rev­enue stream.

The for­mer Eskom head of le­gal and com­pli­ance, Suzanne Daniels, who re­vealed the ex­tent of the Gup­tas’ in­volve­ment in the paras­tatal to Par­lia­ment in 2017, says she “lit­er­ally ran out of money” in De­cem­ber last year. She has re­ceived a summons for her car.

Masimba Dahwa, who was the chief pro­cure­ment of­fi­cer at SAA un­til his re­fusal to sign an un­law­ful R1.5-bil­lion Swis­s­port con­tract cost him his job in 2016, has been un­able to find per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment since. In 2019, his fam­ily home in Pre­to­ria was auc­tioned by the bank.

Now a num­ber of other whistle­blow­ers are join­ing Stim­pel, Daniels and Dahwa in call­ing on the ma­jor banks to write off their debt.

In a let­ter au­thored by Stim­pel, the whistle­blow­ers state: “Most of us will lose our cars, our houses for do­ing what is right… Cor­po­rates and banks should show that stand­ing up [against] cor­rup­tion and wrong­do­ing does ac­tu­ally have a pos­i­tive out­come.”

Stim­pel told Daily Mav­er­ick 168 that the banks are “hound­ing” the whistle­blow­ers to pay off debt they have no way of set­tling, be­cause they ap­pear to be ef­fec­tively un­em­ploy­able.

“When I left SAA I ob­vi­ously looked at my debt and thought I would get a job: I have an MBA, bank­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, trea­sury ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery time I sent my CV out I got not even a re­ply,” she said.

“Peo­ple Google you and they don’t like what they see.”

In letters sent to the banks and seen by DM168, Stim­pel has of­fered to work off her credit card debt “as a clerk, fil­ing, researcher, teller, in­quiries — any work which will as­sist me pay­ing off my debt”.

Other State Cap­ture whistle­blow­ers re­port the same dif­fi­cul­ties in get­ting hired again.

“I am one of the pi­o­neers of sup­ply chain [man­age­ment] in Africa,” said Dahwa. “I have over 25 years ex­pe­ri­ence; I did my PhD in sup­ply chain. All that has now come to a heap of noth­ing. I’ve ap­plied to gov­ern­ment and pri­vate com­pa­nies: they think maybe you are not one of the good ones.”

Dahwa said he is scrap­ing by with in­ter­mit­tent con­sult­ing work, but ev­ery se­mes­ter he strug­gles to pay his chil­dren’s school fees.

Stim­pel be­lieves South Africa’s banks should of­fer debt for­give­ness to the State

Cap­ture whistle­blow­ers, not just to send a pos­i­tive anti-cor­rup­tion mes­sage, but be­cause the banks “were all com­plicit in State Cap­ture”.

She said: “I know, be­cause I’ve worked in the banks, you need to fol­low pol­icy. If [a client] is get­ting a mil­lion into their ac­count and their salary is R50,000 a month, you need to be ask­ing about it.”

Con­tacted for com­ment on the whistle­blow­ers’ plea, FNB, Absa and Ned­bank all told DM168 they could not com­ment on in­di­vid­ual clients’ debt sit­u­a­tions, but as­sessed re­quests for debt re­lief mea­sures on a case-by-case ba­sis. Stan­dard Bank did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

A Ned­bank spokesper­son added: “Ned­bank de­nies any al­le­ga­tions of be­ing com­plicit in State Cap­ture.”

Abba Omar, head of strat­egy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Bank­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa, de­scribed the debt for­give­ness pro­posal as “in­ter­est­ing”, but said in­di­vid­ual banks would be bet­ter placed to com­ment.

The le­gal frame­work in South Africa for pro­tect­ing whistle­blow­ers, the Pro­tected Dis­clo­sures Act, has long been crit­i­cised as in­ad­e­quate. Un­like in other coun­tries, it does not make any fi­nan­cial pro­vi­sion for those who blow the whis­tle and find them­selves out in the cold.

In the US, the False Claims Act en­ti­tles in­di­vid­u­als who as­sist a prose­cu­tion to re­ceive some of the money re­cov­ered by the gov­ern­ment as a re­sult. Ghana’s Whistleblo­wer Re­ward Fund works in a sim­i­lar way.

Le­gal con­sul­tant Gabriella Raz­zano, who has worked ex­ten­sively with whistle­blow­ers, said the fact that Stim­pel and her col­leagues are hav­ing to pe­ti­tion the banks for debt re­lief is “an in­dict­ment of the whistle­blow­ing sys­tem”.

Raz­zano said that al­though one might think a demon­strated de­sire to do the right thing would make whistle­blow­ers highly sought-af­ter em­ploy­ees, it is of­ten ex­tremely difficult for them to find new jobs.

“There are cer­tain busi­ness lead­ers who don’t want what they see as ‘difficult’ peo­ple in their or­gan­i­sa­tions,” she said. “Oth­ers are un­der pres­sure from part­ners in their sec­tor to not open their doors to peo­ple who have burned cer­tain busi­nesses.”

In­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Mandy Wiener, who has just pub­lished a book ti­tled

said they are also of­ten bled fi­nan­cially dry through le­gal pro­cesses.

“I in­ter­viewed many whistle­blow­ers who were suc­cess­ful ex­ec­u­tives, who sac­ri­ficed their life sav­ings and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity and have now cashed out their pen­sions and are

“I in­ter­viewed many whistle­blow­ers who were suc­cess­ful ex­ec­u­tives, who sac­ri­ficed their life sav­ings and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity and have now cashed out their pen­sions and are liv­ing off fam­ily mem­bers. It’s very sad,” Weiner said.

liv­ing off fam­ily mem­bers. It’s very sad,” she said.

Busi­ness ethics lec­turer Athol Wil­liams, who has not worked for a year since go­ing pub­lic to re­veal Bain & Com­pany’s in­volve­ment in State Cap­ture, says an­other as­pect that is sel­dom ac­knowl­edged is how time-con­sum­ing it can be to be a whistleblo­wer.

Wil­liams, who is due to tes­tify at the Zondo Com­mis­sion next month, said: “Be­ing a whistleblo­wer sounds like a once-off: you say stuff and then you carry on with your life.”

The re­al­ity, he said, is very dif­fer­ent. “I had to trawl through hun­dreds of emails and doc­u­ments to put to­gether my af­fi­davit [for the Zondo Com­mis­sion]. I’ve had to spend hours and hours with lawyers and in­ves­ti­ga­tors. It be­comes a full-time job.”

The fi­nan­cial toll of whistle­blow­ing is ex­ceeded only by the emo­tional tax it ex­acts on those who go pub­lic with wrong­do­ing at ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions. All the whistle­blow­ers who spoke to DM168 said their per­sonal lives had been turned up­side-down in the af­ter­math to their dis­clo­sures, which, apart from the strain of lengthy un­em­ploy­ment, also meant liv­ing in per­pet­ual fear of ret­ri­bu­tion. Two re­ported that their mar­riages had col­lapsed as a re­sult.

For Dahwa, the most de­press­ing as­pect of his sit­u­a­tion is the mes­sage it sends to those won­der­ing if they should re­port cor­rup­tion.

“There were peo­ple across Africa who looked up to me when it comes to pro­cure­ment,” said Dahwa.

“I don’t know what they think now. If you want to be a whistleblo­wer, do you end up be­ing like Dr Dahwa, who lost his house and couldn’t send his chil­dren to schools of choice?”

“I am one of the pi­o­neers of sup­ply chain [man­age­ment] in Africa,” said Dahwa. “I have over 25 years ex­pe­ri­ence; I did my PhD in sup­ply chain. All that has now come to a heap of noth­ing. I’ve ap­plied to gov­ern­ment and pri­vate com­pa­nies: they think maybe you are not one of the good ones.”

Cyn­thia Stim­pel walk­ing the Camino in France in 2016 when she sent this whistle­blow­ing mes­sage to Na­tional Trea­sury in South Africa via the SMS (on the right).

Top: Cyn­thia Stim­pel. Above: For­mer Eskom head of le­gal and com­pli­ance, Suzanne Daniels tes­ti­fies at the Zondo Com­mis­sion. Right: Dr Masimba Dahwa. Photo by Luba­balo Lesolle. Photo of Cyn­thia Stim­pel by Han­nerie de Wet.

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