UCT denies offering State Capture Inquiry whistleblower 'hush money'

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Former Bain & Co. partner Athol Williams spilled all the beans about the company's involvement in destroying SARS under Tom Moyane's tenure.
Photo: YouTube screengrab
Former Bain & Co. partner Athol Williams spilled all the beans about the company's involvement in destroying SARS under Tom Moyane's tenure. Photo: YouTube screengrab
  • Former UCT ethics lecturer Athol Williams claims that UCT offered him money to stop him asking if the university uses companies caught up in state capture allegations.  
  • Williams is also questioning UCT's support for whistleblowers who find themselves under fire once they decide to tell all.  
  • In response, UCT says that Williams is distorting facts and that it has tried its best to accommodate his concerns.

Former UCT ethics lecturer Athol Williams alleges that the university offered him money in the hopes that he would stop asking whether it used companies caught up in state capture allegations.  

Williams is also questioning UCT's support for whistleblowers such as himself, after he was not paid a salary while preparing his submission to the Zondo Commission on his brief spell with Bain & Company.  

In response, UCT said Williams was distorting facts and that it had tried its best to accommodate his concerns. 

Williams tweeted on Tuesday: "Read this slowly... the University of Cape Town ombudsman offered me hush money. We have sunk so low in SA. Anyone with a platform willing to raise the alarm?"

In email correspondence, Williams told News24 that he had expressed his concern to UCT about its hiring of McKinsey & Company as part of its plans to strengthen the UCT Graduate School of Business' strategic position.  

Williams wanted to know from UCT what its position was regarding McKinsey & Company, following its involvement with Gupta-aligned companies on contracts for restructuring at Transnet. 

This week, Fin24 reported that McKinsey & Company had offered to pay back R870 million in Transnet fees.  

Williams used to work for Bain & Company, which had been hired for a controversial restructuring programme at the SA Revenue Service. Fin24 reported that critics saw the restructure as a hobbling of SARS' core revenue collection duties.  

Williams resigned about six months into the job of cleaning up Bain's image and began work as an ethics lecturer at UCT's Graduate School of Business.  

However, when he decided to make a submission to the Zondo Commission, the job was so big that he had to take leave to do it. However, he was not paid while he was on leave.  

"I either had to keep working and [do] a sloppy job of my testimony or give up my salary to do a proper job of my testimony and affidavit. These were my choices because they only offered unpaid leave," he told News24.   

ALSO READ | State capture: Former Bain fixer lays into Tom Moyane for calling him 'disgruntled whistle-blower'

He eventually also resigned from UCT, feeling that as a whistleblower had he received little or no support. He warned that whistleblowers face a dangerous and monumental task, and he feels the university does not provide adequate support for this important duty.   

In all the to-and-fro of him trying to establish what UCT's position was on state capture, and his own struggle to be supported as a whistleblower, he said UCT ombud Ihron Rensburg, who had been dealing with his concerns, offered him a year's salary.

Williams regards this as "hush money" because of the questions he is raising over the ethics of who the university does business with.  

"I blew the whistle on UCT – making my concerns known at the Zondo Commission and on air. The ombud said that they wanted to wrap up dealing with me and offered me a year’s salary," he said.  

When it was pointed out to him that he had suggested that if the university wanted to give him money, that he donate it to his newly established ethics institute or a Master's student, he said this was not a request for money for himself.  

"I am not asking for money – after I rejected his offer to pay me, I was in this email suggesting that if the university wanted to spend money, it shouldn’t come to me but go to research to help develop a reparations model and to help a Master's student with fees. This was related to his earlier offer of a years salary for me," he said.  

He insisted that UCT go public on the companies implicated in state capture that it has dealings with, and explain why the ombud had offered him a year's salary.  

UCT issued a statement after the tweet to dispute Williams claims.  

"Regrettably, Mr Williams has again raised and repeated multiple, very serious allegations against UCT in public statements. This is unfortunate and unjust," said spokesperson Elijah Moholola.

OPINION | The need to build a new South Africa for its 57 million inhabitants

"He was supported by the Graduate School of Business (GSB) and UCT on his appointment at the GSB in the first place. UCT appointed him despite not having a PhD, which he promised to conclude urgently.  

"Again, we supported him in making allowances when he wished to alter his contract (six months after he started at the GSB). Furthermore, some six months later, we granted him his request for unpaid leave for 12 months.  

"Mr Williams seems to be aggrieved that UCT applied the necessary rules applicable to unpaid leave. In applying these rules, UCT was acting consistently, as it would in the case of all staff employed by the university." 

UCT rejected as "distortions of fact" that Williams received no help from them, and was then offered money.  

"Mr Williams has every right to raise the issues he is aggrieved about in his relationship with UCT with the CCMA. To date, UCT is not aware that he has exercised this option.

"Mr Williams’ continued slandering of UCT is unfair and unjust. There is absolutely no factual basis for Mr Williams’ insinuation that his resignation, or UCT’s acceptance of it, was somehow connected to his whistleblowing activity."

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