Church Square in central Cape Town reverberated with the ear-splitting sound of whistles being blown as the Open Democracy Advice Centre of South Africa (ODAC) launched National Whistleblowing Week on Monday.
Whistleblowing week, which continues until October 23, was launched with the aim of combating corruption in South African society which leads to the wastage of approximately R100 billion per year. The week, which also takes aim at the proposed Protection of Information Bill and gaps in current legislation protecting whistleblowers, will conclude with a roundtable discussion on the Protection of Information Bill in Johannesburg.
ODAC has stated that the main aim of the week is to “create a platform to educate South Africans on how to blow the whistle safely through the correct legislative procedures”.
A disparate lunchtime crowd of about 50 people were warmed up by musician Pedro Espi-Sanchis (otherwise known as Pedro the Music Man) and singer Spha Mdlalose who put anti-corruption lyrics to popular South African songs. Onlookers were encouraged to take a whistle from a three metre high sculpture of a whistle created by well-known graffiti artist Mak1one and join in by blowing their whistle to the beat.
Standing below the statue of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr – a politician for the South African Party in the 1930s who opposed the restriction of Jewish immigrants and the early bills which were later expanded during the apartheid era – ODAC executive director Alison Tilley said the international perception was that South Africa was a highly corrupt society.
However, she said individuals could combat this by blowing the whistle on corruption wherever it was encountered.
Famous South African whistleblower Imraahn Mukaddam, who exposed the bread price fixing scandal which saw Tiger Brands and Pioneer Food fined R98 million and R195.7 million respectively, while Premier Foods, although guilty, were let off for cooperating in the investigation, reiterated the role of the individual in uncovering corruption.
“The role of each individual in society is to hold society to account…taking forward the struggle for democracy,” said Mukaddam.
Those in power should be held accountable “minute by minute” and not just once every five years, he said.
The approximately R100bn or more per more wasted by corruption could be spent on housing, health and education.
“Corruption undermines the rights of the poor and the majority of citizens in this country” and “entrenches and order built on mass exploitation”.
He said the Consumer Protection Act was one piece of legislation that provided an “array of remedies” to change the balance of power and the bread price fixing scandal was an example of how blowing the whistle on corruption “translates to real change in the lives of ordinary people”.
Lawson Naidoo, the executive director of the one-year-old Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, called on government to establish a dedicated, independent body specifically formed to counter corruption.
Naidoo said the organisation was also examining the “institutional responses to corruption in South Africa” and uncovering weaknesses in the whistleblowing legislation.
“Whistleblowers need to be able to come forward without worrying about retribution,” he said.
The event was also aimed at highlighting the launch of ODAC’s national anti-corruption hotline where people could report corruption in the private or public sector. The number is 0800 WHISTLE (0800 944 7853).
More information on the campaign can also be found at www.blowthewhistle.org.za — Steve Kretzmann