The whistle blowers by Mandy Wiener: reader impression

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This reader impression was written and sent to LitNet on the writer's own initiative.

The whistleblowers
Mandy Wiener
Pan Macmillan South Africa
EAN: 9781770107045

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The challenge of corruption is basically one that inherently seems to form a part of organised government. It has been this way since time immemorial.

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The challenge of corruption is basically one that inherently seems to form a part of organised government. It has been this way since time immemorial. There have been many attempts to curb the evil called corruption, such as the separation of powers, for example. In theory, the executive arm of government is supposed to be subject to scrutiny by the legislative branch of government. The judiciary acts as an independent arbiter in criminal matters and civil disputes. Then, there are the media, the opposition parties, the nongovernmental civil rights organisations and, in the case of South Africa, even further checks and balances, such as the so-called chapter nine institutions, which also supposedly act independently to protect the interests of the public. But the theory of this, sadly, is very, very far removed from the reality.

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But what is the use of legislation if we do not have moral leaders? Citizens who take a stand against corrupt activities? The problem, in short, is that very often, if you do not become part of the problem, then you yourself become a problem for the corrupt system, and you are simply removed. This is exactly what happened to a number of people described in this book.

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In South Africa, we just love to pass legislation. But what is the use of legislation if we do not have moral leaders? Citizens who take a stand against corrupt activities? The problem, in short, is that very often, if you do not become part of the problem, then you yourself become a problem for the corrupt system, and you are simply removed. This is exactly what happened to a number of people described in this book. These people, who are really standing up to the wrongs in society, often end up being terrorised, their families threatened, and they are even sometimes killed for speaking out against corruption. They are known as the whistle-blowers, the people who should be praised for taking a stance against corruption, but who instead end up being isolated and losing their incomes, their jobs, their homes and their friends, and in general having their lives destroyed.

Wiener’s book is a rather grim exposé of some of the stories of South Africa’s whistle-blowers. Some of the individuals in the book are quite well known, such as the politician Patricia de Lille, known for exposing the so-called arms deal. For the most part, the whistle-blowers are ordinary South Africans. Granted, some of them are quite controversial in their own right. Some of the whistle-blowers are being questioned for their “whistle-blowing”, because they perhaps did not actively blow the whistle, but accidently exposed corrupt activities. Others seemingly took to exposing their fellow corrupt former “friends” only after the card house started to tumble anyway, seemingly only to salvage some of their own lost reputations, or at least minimise their own sentences. But, in many cases, a beloved father, a dear friend and colleague, was killed, only to protect the corrupt elements, and the trauma lingers on for the families.

The controversial Gupta family naturally forms part of the book. Of particular interest is the matter of the Estina dairy farm, located near the Free State town of Vrede, where questions continue to loom over a large government-funded project. In addition, there is also a whole chapter dedicated to the issue of the so-called #GuptaLeaks. And, of course, where there is a discussion of corruption and patronage, Eskom will never be far outside the radar. Needless to say, most of the cases in the book have never been fully resolved. Some of the cases probably will never be resolved, and many people will just have to accept the loss of their loved ones, or their incomes, or all of their friends and their former lives, and simply move on with life.

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If you wish to destroy the life you know, expose some corrupt activities.

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There is very little sympathy and, even more importantly, little support available for whistle-blowers in South Africa. This fact makes the act of whistle-blowing very unattractive. If you wish to destroy the life you know, expose some corrupt activities. In 2017, the country passed a piece of legislation called the Protected Disclosures Act (PDA). Many see this act as yet another classic example of one of the many pieces of dead legislation in South Africa, describing it as “not worth the paper it is being written on” (419). A lack of test cases compounds the challenges relating to this legislation. An example taken from the Netherlands, where in 2016 an independent “house for whistle-blowers” was set up to act as an independent body investigating whistle-blower claims, is being identified as a possible solution for South Africa as well. Would it work in South Africa? This is a question on which one can only speculate. In the end, whistle-blowing all boils down to the integrity of the people involved. We can safely say that no government structure would guarantee that whistle-blowers will be protected, but there certainly seems to be a lack of legal tools available for whistle-blowers to work with.

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While detailing the stories of some of South Africa’s whistle-blowers, the author succeeds in painting the individuals involved in a very nuanced way. While the whistle-blowers are, for the most part, people whom we should look up to, the author never turns a blind eye to the flaws of some of the whistle-blowers, in many ways delivering something that is unique to South African bookshelves.

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If you are looking for some very sombre stories to read, I would suggest you get yourself a copy of Mandy Wiener’s The whistle blowers, with photographs by Felix Dlangamandla. The author relied mostly on interviewing the parties involved, or, in the case of the deceased whistle-blowers, their family and friends, who also to a degree risked their safety in speaking out. In addition to interviews, the book is provided with a list of sources. These are mostly internet references. While detailing the stories of some of South Africa’s whistle-blowers, the author succeeds in painting the individuals involved in a very nuanced way. While the whistle-blowers are, for the most part, people whom we should look up to, the author never turns a blind eye to the flaws of some of the whistle-blowers, in many ways delivering something that is unique to South African bookshelves. It is a timely and sterling contribution to the subject.

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