Earlier this year, the poet and academic Athol Williams testified before the Zondo Commission, a South African state inquiry established in 2018 to investigate corruption allegations of corruption, state capture, and fraud in the country’s public sector. Along with 278 other witnesses, Williams blew the whistle on individuals and companies involved.
Concerns for his safety grew in August after the assassination of Babita Deokaran, another whistle-blower and senior finance official in the health department of Gauteng province. She was a key witness in an investigation into the department’s R 332 million fraudulent contract. Ms. Deokaran was shot several times outside her home.
The exacerbated risk and warnings from allies spurred Williams to leave the country. In a statement he released on Sunday, he accused the South African authorities of “choosing not to proactively protect whistle-blowers.”
“Knowing that my government offers me no protection after I’ve acted in the public interest is a disturbing reality,” he said. “I implicated 39 parties in my testimony so threats could come from many places. I have spoken up consciously about injustices in our country and taken action where I could. Rather than support me, I’ve faced alienation and abandonment by corporate South Africa which I served for many years, from the university where I taught ethics, and from my government; and I’ve been let down by many friends.”
Williams described parting with his family on November 1. He bemoaned the sad reality of whistle-blowers and the failure of South African companies and the government in supporting them. “They have let down all South Africans, preferring empty statements and platitudes over sincerity and authenticity,” he said.
Athol Williams provided information regarding Bain SA, a management consultancy firm where he formerly worked as a senior partner, and the company’s alleged cooperation with former president Jacob Zuma in making strategic government appointments. His testimony also implicated the South African Revenue Service.
In his statement, he debunked the narrative that “only a few bad apples are involved in state capture.” He said, “The corrupted web stretches across our society and needs bold action to clear this out. It starts with each of us.”
Although he was forced to leave his home for fear of being “silenced,” Athol Williams is resolute in his pursuit of truth and justice. “I look forward to the day, soon, when I can return home to continue our collective effort to realize the promise of our democracy.”
His present location remains undisclosed.