Whistleblowers: We need better protection

The laws meant to protect whistleblowers who come forward to report corruption fail to shield them from harassment, intimidation or legal action. 

This is according to two high-profile whistleblowers who spoke at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in Cape Town on Wednesday.

In a panel discussion, the two recounted a dark world of covert surveillance, paranoia and death threats over the sordid history of Eskom and Trillian.

Former Trillian CEO turned whistleblower Bianca Goodson, and Eskom’s former head of legal and compliance turned whistleblower Suzanne Daniels, shared the cost of lifting the lid on an operation that came to epitomise the years of state capture.


Parliament is currently processing the Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill, which aims to protect the identities of people coming forward with evidence against corrupt officials.

However, MPs are at odds on whether the bill in its current form protects whistleblowers from prosecution.

Open Democracy executive director Gabriella Razzano told attendants at The Gathering that whistleblowers still operated in an environment that instilled fear in honest South Africans who wanted to lift the lid on corruption.

"In cases where people get intimidated and feel scared, the law hasn't done enough. There is still a perception - that isn't real - that there are a lot of liars," Razzano said.

Big Brother's watching

Daniels said while she climbed Eskom's corporate ladder quickly, she was unprepared for how pervasive the monitoring would be by those engineering state capture of the power utility.

"I climbed the ladder quite fast at Eskom. I started 12 years ago. My first experience was meeting Salim Essa and being made aware that I would be watched. My phone was tapped and that they knew my movements," Daniels said.

Daniels said there was truth to the description of state capture as a "state within a state" as meetings the utility held initially did not discuss clandestine decisions that would eventually be made.

"I didn't know who to trust and I had the additional duty and extra confidentiality of defending Eskom. I was at the front line when people needed answers. I didn't see this in the boardroom," said Daniels.

"During the meeting with Esa I stepped in and realised Duduzane Zuma and one of the Gupta brothers are in the room. And there is a minister. By that time, I though 'no, this can't be happening'. And people would ask why I didn't take a selfie," Daniels quipped.

She agreed that among the general public, she became aware of people who viewed her initial accounts of the relationship between Trillian and Eskom with scepticism and cynicism.

"People asked why I came out only at the time that I did.

"It took a hell of a lot to do it. I had a tiff with Sikonathi Mantshantsha. He was covering Eskom when it wasn't sexy. He threatened my conscience and the way I looked at things," said Daniels.

Daniels said aside from people not believing her accounts of what was happening, the response to her whistleblowing took a dark turn.

"From about the middle of August, the death threats started and there was harassment on the road. We had about a hundred break ins at my home. There were attacks on my daughter at school. All of this just to scare us," Daniels said.

'We were no longer in control'

Of the moment she encountered the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma at meetings, Daniels said: "This is the moment I realised that we were no longer in control of our country".

Goodson recounted her experience of leaving Trillian when she realised that the relationship between the company and Eskom was suspect, saying she didn’t realise the nature of the relationship whilst working for Trillian.

"There wasn't a single moment that I realised something was wrong.

"I knew about the Guptas from the wedding. There were instructions and tiny things that came up that to myself were not justifiable," Goodson said.

Goodson said while there was no overt bid as monitoring, harassing or intimidating her upon leaving Trillian, she was made aware immediately that her safety could no longer be guaranteed.

"I found out more about the hole that I was in because of the media (after I resigned).

"I was got more and more depressed and started hating myself.

"I got advice that my life was in danger. No one could relate, you can't relate and lawyers can't relate. That is why it took so long. Because you are trying to look after those that love you," said Goodson.

Investigative reporter Jessica Bezuidenhout concurred with the sentiments on inadequate whistleblower protection.

"We need to create an enabling environment.

"There are examples of individuals who have a profile as whistleblowers and lose out on work."

Razzane agreed, saying: "Whistleblowers are an indication that our internal systems are broken."

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