SOUTH AFRICA: Catholic Bishops in Solidarity with Forgotten Whistleblowers

By Paschal Norbert

PRETORIA, SEPTEMBER 1, 2023 (CISA)– In a letter of solidarity with South Africa’s whistleblowers whose unmatched sacrifice and contribution in the Zondo Commission unearthed the extent of corruption in state agencies and government, Southern African Catholic Bishops have sent a letter of gratitude and support to the honest persons who they say “have sacrificed their lives and livelihoods to be whistle-blowers against corruption in South Africa.”

The letter published by Rt Rev Sithembele Sipuka, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Mthatha and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) on the online newspaper Daily Maverick on August 31, says the bishops meeting in a plenary from August 14 to 18, 2023, felt compelled to applaud the courage of the whistleblowers.

“We gratefully acknowledge your contribution to the disclosure of corruption in government departments, municipalities and state-owned companies heard by the Zondo Commission. Successful prosecution in cases of corruption has often been made possible through your contribution as whistle-blowers. You are a threat to those whose god has become their stomachs and are doing their best to let corruption define the character of our country. Thank you for standing up against them,” wrote Sithembele Sipuka on behalf of the bishops.

The bishops said the courage and self-sacrifice of the whistleblowers even in the face of adversity is exemplary and worth imitating by many South Africans.

“We applaud you for the gift of courage and self-sacrifice as whistle-blowers. Your example of sacrificing self-interests and comfort for the sake of the common good is something our country currently needs in abundance. We are confident that “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6),” the bishops implored.

The Southern African prelates also decried the unfortunate harassment and injustices that have befallen the whistleblowers, avowing that the heavy price they are paying for their worthy actions is not going unnoticed.

“We know of your hardships as whistleblowers, how some of you have experienced harassment, recrimination, and dismissal and how some of you continue to suffer financial and emotional stress after exposing corruption. We know of those who have been killed, leaving behind families in pain and with unanswered questions, particularly when the state fails to prosecute those who killed them. The heavy price that you are paying is not going unnoticed, and it is not in vain. Thanks to your courage, society is waking up to the evil of corruption and is opposing it,” the bishops stated.

They called on the Justice Department to immediately devise ways to protect whistle-blowers even as legal reforms are underway and laws protecting the said group are being reviewed.

“In solidarity with you, we welcome the contemplated legal reforms and the proposals of civil society, including broadening the definition of a whistle-blower in terms of the Protected Disclosure Act of 2000, criminalizing retribution against a whistle-blower, the inclusion of whistle-blowers under witness protection mechanisms, the provision of specialized courts for whistle-blowing cases, and the provision of legal aid and creation of funding to cover the legal costs of whistle-blowers,” they said.

“Our hope and prayer are that the proposed legal reforms on whistle-blowers recently released by the Department of Justice will soon translate into effective action for improved safety and protection of whistle-blowers,” they added.

The bishops assured of their continued solidarity and prayers saying “Like John the Baptist (cf. Mark. 6:17-29), you tell the truth even at the expense of your convenience and life in the interest of the common good. We assure you of our continued solidarity and prayers. For their information and action about your plight, we are also sending this letter to the relevant political leaders, appropriate government offices and civil bodies that concern themselves with your cause.”

The prelates also castigated the National Prosecution Authority for delays in indicting individuals and businesses that were recommended for prosecution by the Zondo Commission, arguing that “The sacrifices made by the whistle-blowers should not be in vain. Justice must be seen to be done,” for “It has been delayed for long enough.”

The over 5,000-paged Zondo Commission report, named after its chairperson, South Africa’s Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, details multiple incidents of state capture that took place within the South African government departments and state-owned enterprises during the presidency of Jacob Zuma.

During the final handover of the report on June 22, 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa said “The report is far more than a record of widespread corruption, fraud and abuse; it is also an instrument through which the country can work to ensure that such events are never allowed to happen again.”