International whistleblower awards honour four South Africans

Four South African whistleblowers have received international recognition for their efforts in exposing corruption. 

Babita Deokaran, who was murdered, and Thabiso Zulu were bestowed with special recognition awards at Wednesday evening’s whistleblowing awards hosted by the international nonprofit, Blueprint for Free Speech.

Francois van der Westhuizen and Pieter Snyders claimed the UK whistleblowing prize.

Deokaran, a senior finance official in the Gauteng health ministry who exposed corruption in her department, was killed outside her house in the south of Johannesburg in August. Her assassination sparked nationwide outrage, including condemnation from President Cyril Ramaphosa, who stated that more protection should be afforded to whistleblowers.

Zulu is a former ANC Youth League Harry Gwala regional official who testified at the Moerane commission in 2017 regarding the murder of uMzimkhulu municipality councillor Sindiso Magaqa as well as widespread looting. He has had to dodge threats against his life ever since, including an apparent assasination attempt in 2019 in which he was shot and wounded

Whistle blower Thabiso Zulu photographed in Pietermaritzbut, 29 November 2021. (Rogan Ward)

Van der Westhuizen and Snyders are former employees of a private security company contracted by British American Tobacco. The two came forward and presented public accounts of a campaign of industrial espionage and sabotage that the tobacco giant reportedly implemented against its rivals.

“This year, more than any other, has placed the spotlight on whistleblowers in South Africa and the dangers that they face,” said the Blueprint for Free Speech

“The murder of Babita Deokaran, the ill treatment of Thabiso Zulu, the assassination of his friend Sindiso Magaqa, and the departure of Athol Williams have all raised international awareness of the plight of whistleblowers in South Africa.”

The full list of winners are: 

Daniel Hale – International Whistleblowing Prize

Jonathan Taylor – International Whistleblowing Prize

Francois van der Westhuizen, Pieter Snyders and Paul Hopkins – UK Whistleblowing Prize

Daniel Ellsberg – Lifetime Achievement Award

Margaret Mitchell – Special Recognition Award

Pav Gill – Special Recognition Award

Babita Deokaran – Special Recognition Award

Thabiso Zulu – Special Recognition Award

“Blueprint for Free Speech awards prizes to whistleblowers because, in most cases, they bravely make their disclosures, suffer the consequences of reprisal, and go unrewarded,” the organisation said.

“We want to change this culture so that whistleblowers are recognised as brave women and men who sometimes risk everything for the sake of the public interest.”

A prize pool of £20 000 will be distributed among the winners.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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