Whistleblower safeguards still inadequate - journalists and informants

Legislation in South Africa is failing to create an environment in which whistleblowers can come forward with information about corruption without fear of 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 shed light on the dark world of covert surveillance, paranoia and death threats over the sordid history of Eskom and Trillian.

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Former Trillian CEO Bianca Goodson and Eskom's former head of legal and compliance Suzanne Daniels, who both turned whisteblowers, spoke about the cost of lifting the lid on one of the operations that has come to epitomise the years of state capture.

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

However, MPs are at odds over 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.

READ: #GuptaLeaks whistleblowers to deliver recorded message at Daily Maverick Gathering

Daniels said that, while her rise up the corporate ladder at Eskom was fast, she did not prepare for how pervasive the engineers of state capture of the utility would be in monitoring her.

"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 there was much truth to the analogy of state capture being a "state within a state", as meetings that 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 Essa, 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 thought: 'No, this can't be happening'. And people would ask why I didn't take a selfie," Daniels quipped.

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."

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.

READ: Daniels slams Eskom for 'victimisation and harassment' after new charges

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."

Duduzane has been charged with corruption, alternatively conspiracy to commit corruption, relating to allegations of a R600m offer made to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas in 2015 by Ajay Gupta, in Zuma's presence.

News24 previously reported that Duduzane denied in an affidavit that he was guilty of any criminal acts as alleged by the State.

Goodson recounted her experience of leaving Trillian when she realised that the relationship between the company and Eskom was suspicious, saying she did not realise the nature of the relationship while 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."

She said that 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 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."

Razzano concurred, saying: "Whistleblowers are an indication that our internal systems are broken."