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South African graft informers face threats: watchdog

A South African corruption watchdog on Wednesday warned that whistleblowers face hostility and threats on their lives, a month after the murder of a health official who exposed coronavirus-linked graft shook the country.

The safety of whistleblowers hit the limelight when provincial government official Babita Deokaran, 53, was gunned down in Johannesburg on August 23 after dropping off her child at school.

Deokaran was a key witness in an investigation on suspicious personal protective equipment tenders in the Gauteng province — which includes Johannesburg city — as part of a flurry of Covid-related scandals that sparked public outrage last year.

“Those brave enough to expose corruption continue to face threats to their lives from people acting with impunity, and the environment is even more hostile to whistleblowers,” Corruption Watch said in a report exposing “continued rot” in South Africa.

Nine suspects have been arrested in connection with the case, of whom at least six are facing trial on murder charges.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, elected on a promise to root out graft, last month described Deokaran’s death as a “stark reminder of the high stakes” of this quest.

The motive for Deokaran’s murder has not yet been determined.

The provincial premier, David Makhura, said the information Deokaran shared had led to dismissals and claims to recover funds from businesses and government officials.

The government this week launched a unit to protect whistleblowers in public service.

Corruption Watch stressed that guaranteeing their safety was “a matter of urgency” to avoid discouraging people from testifying.

The group said nearly 2,000 whistleblowers had helped show that corruption continued “unabated” during the first half of 2021 in both public and private sectors.

Most of the revelations of extortion and abuse of authority concerned the police.

Corrupt procurement and mismanagement were also reported in coronavirus response schemes, public funding for schools and housing, and food aid.