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In Praise Of South Africa’s Unsung Heroes

Tying The Tourniquet

South Africa’s political history has many heroes. Those who, at risk of persecution, imprisonment, exile or worse, fought to free our country from the shackles of Apartheid. Many of these heroes have been forever immortalised in our street names, airports and other buildings. There are also those heroes who’ve worked, or who’re still working, to expose corruption at both government and corporate level. Their courageous efforts are praised at length in social and other media, and they are hailed as champions of ethical business practices and good governance.

But then there are the many, many unsung heroes in our country who have also stood up against corrupt practices – despite the very real risk to their personal safety – but whose names have never made it into newspaper headlines. You won’t find streets named after them. You’ll struggle to find people who’ve even heard of them. In fact, you have to dig very deep to discover details of their bravery at all.

But brave is exactly how we need to describe their behaviour. They stood up in the face of persecution, and some even paid the ultimate price for their integrity. These strong, upstanding and dedicated individuals endured significant harrassment and credible threats to their personal safety, and that of their families. They would not let themselves be swayed, corrupted or bullied, and they suffered for that.

Today we’d like to pay tribute to some of our country’s unsung heroes. We see too much naming and shaming of corrupt officials. Today we want to name and fame those who helped bring them to justice. We see you, and hear you. Although it might not feel like it at times, you are not alone. Your names, and the lessons we’ve learned from your courage, are not forgotten.

Moses Tshake, Former Auditor, Free State Provincial Government

His fight to root out corruption and restore some semblance of financial responsibility in the Free State ultimately cost Moses Tshake his life. On February 22, 2013, he died in a Bloemfontein hospital of injuries sustained in a hijacking incident three months previously. He had been looking into certain corrupt agricultural projects in the province at the time he was attacked.

Some of these included:

  • Missing monies to the tune of R140m, destined for the Gariep Fish Hatchery project.
  • The R570-million Vrede dairy project, alleged to have ties to the Gupta family, and into which millions of Rands of public funding disappeared.

There was an initial investigation into his death, but it soon stalled. His killers go unpunished to this day.

Mathane Makgatho, Former Group Treasurer, Transnet

It’s hard to know where to begin with Transnet. Generally referred to as “State Capture Central,” this state-owned enterprise is responsible for running our country’s rail, freight, ports and pipelines. In 2014, Mathane Makgatho (then the Group Treasurer) accused Brian Molefe (who was then the Group Chief Executive) of, if not actually taking the money himself, of facilitating the looting of billions of Rands of public funds through shady deals, rubber stamped by head of finance, Anoj Singh.

After refusing to authorise a deal that would see Transnet coughing up an extra R150-million a year over five years as payback for a R5 billion loan to finance a dodgy locomotive deal, Makgatho was slowly and methodically excluded from financial goings on. Eventually, fearing for her life, she left the organsation. Since then, no one has bothered to ask how she’s doing, or how she, and some of her colleagues who also left around the same time, are coping. Yet testimonies at the State Capture commission confirm that were it not for Makgatho’s bravery, millions more would have gone missing. Truly an unsung hero.

Dr Masimba Dahwa, Former Chief Procurement Officer, SAA

Towards the end of 2015, Dr Dahwa was suddenly, and for reasons no one at the time would confirm, put on “special leave.” Later investigations into activities by SAA’s then ruinous chairperson Dudu Myeni revealed Dahwa refused to carry out instructions he knew were unlawful. Some of these included awarding contracts – without following proper procedures – to companies handpicked by Myeni. After months of harrassment and victimisation, Dahwa was chased out of the company, fearing for his life.

But things didn’t stop there. The bank financing his home loan started proceedings to repossess his house, as he could no lonnger afford to pay his bond. He also had to pull his children out of their schools as he couldn’t pay the fees. Currently testifying before the Zondo Commission, Dahwa continues to fight a very lonely fight, paying the price for taking a stand against outrageous corruption. Another unsung hero.

Mzukisi Makatse, Former NLC Eastern Cape Grant Agreement Officer

Currently suing the National Lottery Commission (NLC) for R10m in damages, Makatse alleges he was unfairly dismissed from his position after refusing to approve R6m in funding for a music festival. Makatse felt proper procedures had not been followed. He suspected the festival was just a front, and that the money was instead destined for unauthorised pockets. While the NLC claims he was dismissed for “flagrantly disregarding the instructions of your superiors,” Makatse sticks to his claim that it was because he refused to authorise a payment he considered irregular. Another unsung hero making a valuable, individual contribution to fighting corruption.

Tell Us Your Thoughts

We understand that celebrating the courageous acts of those who do the right thing doesn’t obviate the need to actively go after and prosecute those who do wrong. But highlighting the bravery of our unsung heroes, the people who act with integrity even when no one is watching, is definitely something we need to do more.

Tell us about an unsung hero you believe is worth celebrating. We’d love to hear from you.