Photo: GCIS / Flickr
Photo: GCIS / Flickr
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his weekly newsletter, praised late senior health official Babita Deokaran for acting as a guardian of democracy and becoming a witness in the fight against corruption. He also admitted that government urgently needs to review the current approach, not only to witness protection but also to the broader protection of whistleblowers.
A week ago, Babita Deokaran was gunned down outside her home in Johannesburg shortly after dropping her child at school. It was later revealed that the Gauteng Health official was a witness for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigation into the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). A few days after her death and subsequent funeral, seven suspects were arrested and are due to appear in court.
Ramaphosa said that since the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture started its work, we have heard of the lengths to which the perpetrators of corrupt acts have gone to conceal their misdeeds.
Ramaphosa said that as investigations progressed and the net began to close on implicated individuals, they have seen witnesses being threatened, their families intimidated, being forced into hiding, and even killed.
“The murder of Babita Deokaran, a senior finance official in the Gauteng health department, is a stark reminder of the high stakes involved in our collective quest to remove this cancer from our society,” he said.
“Regardless of the circumstances behind this tragedy, Ms Deokaran was a hero and a patriot. As are the legions of whistleblowers who, at great risk to themselves, help to unearth instances of misdeeds, maladministration, cronyism and theft,” he added.
Ramaphosa said whistleblowers, such as Babita Deokaran speak out in good faith and with a reasonable expectation not only that action will be taken on their disclosures, but that they will be protected and not suffer victimisation or prejudice.
“In South Africa, there is extensive legislative protection for whistleblowers, including through the Protected Disclosures Act, Labour Relations Act, Companies Act, Protection against Harassment Act, and the Constitution itself,” Ramaphosa said.
“In addition, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, working with other law-enforcement agencies, administers the Office of Witness Protection to provide support to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in any judicial proceedings,” he added.
Ramaphosa said entering witness protection is voluntary, and neither the SAPS nor the NPA can compel a witness to do so.
He explained that should a witness, such as Babita Deokaran, receive threats to their life or feel unsafe, they have to inform investigators and apply for admission to the programme.
Ramaphosa said that as the fight against corruption gathers momentum, we need to urgently review our current approach not only to witness protection but also to the broader protection of whistleblowers.
“While numerous systems are in place to enable whistleblowers to report anonymously, we need to tighten up existing systems and provide greater support to those who publicly come forward with information,” he said.
“As society, we need to identify where existing laws and policies are inadequate in protecting the livelihoods, reputations and safety of whistleblowers – and work together to address these,” he added.
Ramaphosa said brave South Africans like Babita Deokaran are standing firm that they will not be party to corruption and they are prepared to bear witness against it.
“As the South African people, we salute her and all the whistleblowers in the public and private sectors who are exposing corruption to the harshest of glares. They are doing so without expectation of acknowledgement or reward. Theirs is the highest form of public service,” he added.