Local whistleblowers among global recipients of bravery awards

(John McCann/M&G)

Five South Africans are among the 11 people honoured this year by international nonprofit Blueprint for Free Speech for their courage in exposing corruption.

The 2023 Whistleblower Awards, hosted on Tuesday, acknowledged the bravery of three South Africans at state entities as well as two employees who exposed an alleged money laundering scheme at a private company.

Mathapelo More attempted to prevent the alleged looting of $10 million from Daybreak Farms, a large state-owned chicken producer, but was fired as the company’s internal auditor after she reported her suspicions to the entity’s shareholder, the Public Investment Corporation.

Johannah Phenya and her husband, Marumo Phenya, blew the whistle on alleged corruption and fraud related to a shared tender between their company Foursight IT and subcontractor AimRight Trading.

Mzukisi Makatse, a former grant officer at South Africa’s lottery commission, was honoured for questioning a suspicious-looking grant, a move that led to his firing. 

Dawood Khan and Wardah Latief exposed what they allege was an elaborate money laundering operation run by businessman Mohamed Khan, also known as “Mo Dollars”.

In a documentary series by Al Jazeera, Mohamed was implicated in funnelling the proceeds of illicit cigarette sales in South Africa to Dubai, where it was allegedly used to buy gold smuggled from Zimbabwe.

South Africa struggled to improve its ranking in the Transparency International corruption perception index, slipping one place in the 2022 report released in January.

“In South Africa in particular, the judges have awarded more prizes to whistleblowers than in any other country because whistleblowers are under siege and unprotected by a law that is not doing its job in practice,” said executive director of Blueprint for Free Speech Suelette Dreyfus, alluding to the Protected Disclosures Act.

In 2021, Blueprint for Free Speech posthumously awarded special recognition to slain whistleblower Babita Deokaran, a senior finance official in the Gauteng health ministry who exposed corruption in her department, before being killed outside her house in the south of Johannesburg.

After Deokaran’s killing, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that more protection should be afforded to whistleblowers in the country.

Another past South African recipient of a Blueprint for Free Speech award is Thabiso Zulu, a former ANC Youth League regional official who testified at the Moerane commission in 2017 regarding the murder of uMzimkhulu municipality councillor Sindiso Magaqa, as well as widespread looting. Zulu survived an apparent assassination attempt in 2019 in which he was shot and wounded. 

The Blueprint for Free Speech awards list this year also highlights major international stories, including the Tesla whistleblower who raised the alarm on the company’s malpractice in 2022 and doctors in the United Kingdom who flagged nurse Lucy Letby’s involvement in the death of babies in intensive care.

“The only cure for corruption is a vibrant and free press and a few brave souls willing to come forward to expose the truth,” said Dreyfus.

The recipients will share £25 000 in prize money.

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