Many South Africans afraid to blow the whistle on misconduct - survey

There is an apparent increase in the number of South Africans who say they have personally seen misconduct, a survey by The Ethics Institute shows – but many are still too afraid to report it.

According to Liezl Groenewald, a senior manager at The Ethics Institute, their survey shows that a third of employees in corporate South Africa observe misconduct personally, yet only about half of those who do, end up reporting it.

Fear victimisation

"People fear that they are not safe when they report something.

"They fear victimisation and fear that organisations will not do anything about it and just sweep it under the carpet," she said during a panel discussion at a business against corruption-themed event hosted by online publication Daily Maverick on Thursday.

"We hope to assist organisations and people who are still too scared to come out. We want to help them by giving them the training to have the moral courage to speak up and do the right thing," she said.

"If you do not do it, the (misconduct) will become the norm and you might become one of those people who will always just complain. How must the organisation know that it is doing something wrong if you do not tell them?"

It is important to create a safe space for employees where their confidentiality will be protected, she added.

Whistleblowers targeted

"Unfortunately, what happens is that a (whistleblower) report lands on a desk in the organisation somewhere and we often see a reaction from the company of 'forget the message let us see who is the messenger'," said Groenewald.

"That is where the problem comes in, the whistleblowers then lose their protection and the victimisation starts."

During the panel discussion, Stephen van Coller, group CEO of EOH, agreed that, if you don't provide whistleblowers with the right environment, you won't get any information. He said about 40% of fraud reported comes from whistleblowers.

If SA is really serious about fighting corruption, something must be done about protecting whistleblowers, he added.

Another member of the panel, OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage, said the organisation is approached by a lot of whistleblowers, but unfortunately many are not prepared to come forward and testify.Cynthia Stimpel, a former group treasurer at state-owned airline South African Airways, shared how OUTA supported her after she raised the alarm on an SAA contract that was costing the airline tens of millions of rand in pointless fees.  

"Whistleblowers are perceived to be traitors and snakes. It can be a lonely, hard place, but I would do it again. I know what my moral compass is," said Stimpel, who recently testified at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. 

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