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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Mandy Wiener on the world of whistleblowers

Congratulations on the release of The Whistleblowers! Why is this an important book for all South Africans to read? 

Whistleblowers have made an enormous contribution to South Africa in the fight against corruption. They are largely undervalued and not sufficiently appreciated. I hope that this book showcases the value of these whistleblowers and what they have achieved and makes people understand why we should encourage more to come forward.

You have released some poignant books in the past focussing on law enforcement, the criminal underworld and politics. Do you ever have fear – fear for your own safety, fear for the safety of the whistleblowers, fear of inaccuracies? What fear do you deal with on a day to day basis? 

I rarely have fear for my own safety. I tend to make sure that there is no personal risk by mitigating all that before the book goes to print by engaging with all the characters that could be problematic. I do fear for the safety of whistleblowers because what they have risked and what they have exposed, but by the time I’ve written about their stories, most of them have already been in the public domain to some extent. I definitely fear inaccuracies, so I’m meticulous about research and double-checking everything!

Why do you feel that what you do is important – for South Africa, for the world? What do you hope to achieve? 

I think that all work that journalists do is so important. We would never know about so much of the state capture corruption were it not for whistleblowers and journalists who have bravely shone a light on the wrongdoing. I hope that this book is a contribution to that body of work that has made such a big difference. I also hope that this serves as a reminder that we should never allow it to happen again.

Regarding the book, do we as South Africans generally underestimate the contributions whistleblowers have made in bringing down the corrupt ‘state capture’ regime? 

Without a doubt. Were it not for the state capture whistleblowers we would not know about the abuses of power in state-owned entities, in the law enforcement agencies and across the board really. Billions of rands have also been returned to the fiscus as a result of whistleblowers exposing insider dodginess and many have also prevented the pay-outs of money in problematic deals. Yet we don’t fully appreciate them for what they have risked and sacrificed for the interests of the country.

I want people to fully appreciate the whistleblower experience but also that it’s not always so clear cut. Not all whistleblowers are pure and angelic and perfect – many are flawed and there has to be some proximity, if not complicity, with those responsible for wrongdoing. I also what people to understand what the sacrifice is for those who choose to stand up and speak the truth.

How would you describe the current culture of whistleblowing in South Africa, and has this changed in recent years? 

Unfortunately, the way we treat whistleblowers in South Africa is not ideal. We treat them as pariahs, impimpis and see them as troublemakers. We push them to the fringes of society and nobody wants to touch them. They are unemployed and unemployable. I do think that in the past few months a conversation has started around this and that needs to gather momentum. We need to have a societal revolution in how we treat whistleblowers in this country.

Whistleblowers have made an enormous contribution to South Africa in the fight against corruption…

What do whistleblowers gain by speaking out? Monetary compensation? Amnesty? Conscience (doing the right thing)? Revenge? 

There are various motivations for whistleblowers who speak out. In different circumstances, it was different things that motivated them. For some it was a deep-rooted commitment to the truth and doing the right thing. For others it was self-preservation. In some instances it was accidental. I think there is a spectrum of whistleblowers from those who have enormous integrity and principle and do it out of a sense of justice to those who are pushed into a corner, and on the other end there are those who have a change of heart late and are perhaps motivated by ego and act to save themselves. At this point, there is no financial compensation as we see in the US.

Is it your hope that potential whistleblowers will read your book and be inspired to come forward? 

Yes I do hope that this will serve as a guide to whistleblowers who are thinking of coming forward and will provide some lessons and advice to them. I do hope it encourages them to speak up and see the value of their potential contributions.

What is the process a whistleblower must follow to be heard? 

There is advice on this in the book and it is different in differing circumstances. It’s important that if you’re thinking about speaking up you get good, solid, informed legal advice particularly on the Protected Disclosures Act and how it works and that you know what requirements there are legally.

As a journalist, have you been personally intimidated as a result of what you have exposed? 

Nothing to worry about!

Does Suzanne Daniels’ story highlight the typical plight of other whistleblowers in South Africa? 

Suzanne’s story is a contentious one but in many ways, it is the typical story of a whistleblower in South Africa. She had a proximity to wrongdoing and for that reason she has been crucified in the media for not speaking out soon enough, but you have to remember the circumstances at the time when the board, the minister, the executive and everyone else was captured, it is difficult to know who you can speak out to. But were it not for her we would never know the inside workings of Eskom, the Guptas, the Optimum deal and so much more. Yet today she is tainted, unemployed and suffering from the trauma of her experiences.

What is your advice to potential whistleblowers? 

There is practical advice, like keep a diary, keep all the paperwork, phone records, etc. Get good legal advice but then also make sure you have a good support system, emotionally and psychologically.

What changes would you like to see to the system that fails whistleblowers? 

There has to be fundamental, systemic changes to the legislation and to the framework of whistleblowing if we are going to encourage others to come forward. The current system is not sufficient to protect whistleblowers in a practical, real life way, unfortunately. We also have to change the way society treats people who speak up – instead of ‘othering’ them or treating them as impimpis or troublemakers, they need to be placed on a pedestal, celebrated and employed. I do really hope that this book raises awareness about the failures of the legal system and the framework in place. I do hope to use this exposure to advocate for some kind of change. There are examples of legislation in other countries that we could follow – perhaps a Section 9 type set up – an independent, government-funded ‘whistleblower house’ such as in the Netherlands, which protects whistleblowers.

Does your book inspire hope? 

I think there are many harrowing stories, and the reality is that it’s not an easy journey for whistleblowers, but I do think these are inspiring stories of hope, of courage and of bravery. These are remarkable South Africans who have shown exemplary patriotism and dedication to the betterment of the country.

What is next in the pipeline for you?

I’m focusing on my show on 702, the Midday Report every day from 12h00 – 13h00. I don’t think I’ll be writing another book for a while after this one, but hey, I always say that…

Billions of rands have also been returned to the fiscus as a result of whistleblowers exposing insider dodginess…

The Whistleblowers

With corruption and fraud endemic in South Africa, whistleblowers have played a pivotal role in bringing wrongdoing to light. Their courageous acts have resulted in the recovery of millions of rands to the fiscus and to their fellow citizens as well as improved transparency and accountability for office bearers and politicians. But in most cases, the outcomes for the whistleblowers themselves are harrowing and devastating.

Their status as whistleblowers is sometimes contentious and this book delves into whether they deserve the status or whether they were, in fact, complicit in the wrongdoing they claimed to expose. These are the raw and evocative accounts of South Africa’s whistleblowers, told in their own voices and from their own perspectives.

The Whistle Blowers

Mandy Wiener’s bibliography

The Whistleblowers is Mandy Wiener’s fifth book, following on from Ministry of Crime: An Underworld Explored (2018); Behind the Door: The Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp Story (2014), with Barry Bateman; My Second Initiation: A Memoir (2013), with Vusi Pikoli, former head of the National Prosecuting Authority; and the groundbreaking Killing Kebble: An Underworld Exposed (2011).

Author: Natalie Kinsley

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