The murder last month of the Gauteng health department’s chief director of financial accounting Babita Deokaran brought into sharp focus the case of Thabiso Zulu, who became a poster boy for whistle-blowing in 2017.
Deokaran may have been killed because she was a key witness in the investigations into the massive personal protective equipment graft that occurred in the department at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Zulu shot to prominence after his friend and fellow whistle-blower Sindiso Magaqa was murdered, apparently for exposing corruption in the Umzimkhulu Local Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal. After Magaqa’s murder, Zulu was also attacked. He applied for state protection.
A report by the Public Protector instructed the police minister and the national police commissioner to protect Zulu. This was based on two security threat assessments by state security officials, which showed that his life was in danger. The SA Human Rights Commission also recommended that Zulu be granted protection.
Even after at least three attempts on his life, and in the face of growing evidence that someone wanted Zulu out of the picture for whatever information he might have stumbled on, the state failed to act.
In fact, Police Minister Bheki Cele has on more than two occasions intervened, forwarding a number of excuses as to why the state could not or should not provide Zulu with security.
That Zulu is still alive is a miracle.
This week, violence monitor Mary de Haas wrote to the Mountain Rise Police Station commander, demanding answers relating to allegations of police complicity in violence and harassment against Zulu.
De Haas pointed out that Zulu, who had attended an ANC community meeting in the Mountain Rise area in Pietermaritzburg, relating to the selection of a candidate in the local government elections, was again attacked. He had attended the meeting confident that he would be safe, as there were police at the venue. He sustained some injuries.
De Haas believes that the attack was part of a long-standing plot against Zulu.
In his recent From the Desk of the President column, Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the crucial role of whistle-blowers in the fight against corruption.
Noble words indeed, but they ring hollow given the state’s seeming reluctance to act in the matter of Zulu.
Here is a splendid opportunity for the president to demonstrate that he is sincere in his pronouncement that whistle-blowers are a bulwark against corruption. The buck stops with him.