Organisational Ethics During the Covid-19 Pandemic

In times of crisis, Organizational Ethics becomes even more important because the problems organisations face become more complex and difficult to solve, and the decisions they must take become more urgent and riskier. COVID-19 has taken many organisations into unchartered waters and has demanded courage, flexibility, and ethical leadership from management in steadying the ship. Leaders have been forced to navigate the murky waters of the COVID-19 crisis by making massive changes in order to bring their organisations to recovery, assess the needs and interest of their stakeholders, and find creative and innovative ways of thinking.

GMA Ethics Office

Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) is a Provincial Public Entity established in terms of the GMA Act (Act 5 of 2006) and is listed under Schedule 3 (c) of the PFMA. The overall goal of the GMA is to manage, coordinate, and oversee the Concession Agreement for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link Project, as well as assisting the Gauteng Province and other organs of State in realising their integrated public transport, and rail-related and smart mobility objectives.

The Board identified the need to establish an Ethics Office in the GMA in 2019 in order to assist the Board and the Social and Ethics Committee in monitoring and overseeing the ethics performance in the GMA, and to coordinate ethics management activities at an operational level. The GMA Ethics Office started by conducting an Ethics Risk and Opportunity Assessment during 2019 to determine the status of ethics in the GMA, and to evaluate its ethics management systems. The results of the assessment were used in the development of the ethics management strategy, review of ethics codes and related policies, and the design of targeted training on ethics management.

Challenges Imposed by COVID-19

When COVID-19 emerged in South Africa during March 2020 and the National Lockdown was imposed, the review of Ethics Related Codes and Policies had already been completed, and the Policies were approved by Board. Some of the challenges imposed by COVID-19 included:

  • Closure of businesses and remote working – Levels of uncertainty and lack of access to ethics awareness campaigns by employees.
  • Training and Awareness Sessions could no longer be conducted face to face.
  • Delays in the implementation of Ethics Management Interventions.

Ethics Interventions Implemented by GMA Ethics Office to Address COVID-19 Challenges

GMA prides itself on being a high-performing and innovative organisation whose core values are caring, excellence, learning, and leadership. These values are not only espoused but are also discussed and implemented by all members in the GMA. In living up to the value of excellence, the GMA Ethics Office adopted technology as an important tool in the implementation of the Ethics Management Programme. Digitisation assisted in improving employee access to ethics information, documents, and training material. Digitisation also assisted with the development of Application Systems by replacing traditional manual processes. A SharePoint Site was developed to house all the web applications developed, Ethics Management training materials, Policies, and the like.

All Ethics Interventions implemented by the GMA Ethics Office to address COVID-19 challenges are depicted in the diagram below:


The use of technology greatly enhanced the implementation of the Ethics Management Programme and increased employees’ participation in the ethics management interventions.

Lessons Learnt

The lessons learnt during the Pandemic and what the Ethics Office will take forward in enhancing governance and ethics management practices include:

  • Importance of keeping ethics talk alive – During a crisis, organisations must rely on their ethical culture to survive. Ethics talk assists employees in navigating ethical dilemmas and empowers them with tools to detect, prevent, and report unethical conduct.
  • Focus on the opportunities – COVID-19 Pandemic created many challenges; however, many opportunities were also created, i.e., remote work has changed the workplace and introduced a better work-life blending.
  • Innovation and creativity – Use of technology was part of the solutions to enhance the Ethics Management Processes and fast-track the achievement of the GMA’s ethics objectives.
  • Promotion of ethics in the organisation – Impact on ethical maturity, especially in a time of crisis, to guide and facilitate effective decision making.

In summary, while the Covid-19 Pandemic imposed new challenges to a young organisation and an equally young Ethics Office, it also provided opportunities to innovate and excel by providing new tools and methods of applying and maintaining the highest possible ethical standards at the GMA.

Objective Selection of Board Members

Restoring Trust in SOEs Through the Objective Selection of Board Members

Lulama Qabaka & Leon van Vuuren

The Ethics Institute – October 2021

 A story going around relates to a boy who, upon his return from school, is asked by his mother how his day went. The boy indicated that every child in his class was asked to tell a story about his father and what work he does. The mother then asked the child: ‘So what did you say that dad does?’ He replied, ‘I said that he is a stripper at a nightclub’. In shock, the mother asked why he had lied about it. He replied that he did not feel that he could tell his classmates that dad works for a state-owned enterprise (SOE).

The fact of the matter is that SOE employees often feel ashamed by the reputational damage incurred by their employers. This breach of trust extends beyond employees to other stakeholders: industry regulators, clients, suppliers, and the whole of society (in fact) feel the brunt of the loss in trust in SOEs. While it is well-known that the vulnerability of SOEs is often exploited for dubious intentions, the greatest resultant ‘sin’ is abuse of taxpayers’ – who are the ultimate owners of SOEs – money. Responsible and accountable behaviour by SOEs fulfils the ethical obligation that such institutions have to the taxpayer.

The primary challenge, of course, is that the government is the sole shareholder of many of our SOEs. This gives the relevant Minister – as shareholder representative – the unilateral right to appoint non-executive members of the Board of Directors for the SOEs that reside under their oversight. The practice makes sense, to an extent, as the government is the custodian of SOEs as assets to the country.

Whilst we agree with the President that a nomination or deployment committee should be established, this function does not necessarily have to reside with the ruling party. The net negative effect of this process is that the party can nominate its own people, and the country is consequently deprived of the best possible candidates to serve on boards of SOEs. A legitimate appointment process will require much more accountability and transparency than the current practice.

The extent to which the system is inherently problematic has been witnessed in the State Capture Commission of Inquiry where boards were shown to fall short of discharging their duties due to political interference. One of the more alarming examples is that of a former Eskom Chair who was allegedly told to call off a board meeting. The said board member belonged to the ruling political party, as did the government official who told him to call off the meeting. During his testimony at the Zondo Commission, this witness defended the ANC’s use of cadre deployment as an accepted standard in the country. If Board Chairs had been independent and had sufficient positional power, they could have prevented such an obvious abuse of power. Government representatives have no right to interfere with either the board or the day-to-day running of an entity.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises recommends that board members should not have any existing ties to the highest levels of government and should be appointed on professional merit.

It should be a precondition for SOEs to carefully vet board nominees. It is imperative to ascertain – prior to any appointment to a board – those potential candidates have verifiable skills, experience, and the capacity to discharge their duties with diligence (which should be the most crucial selection criteria). The ICRAFT characteristics (integrity, competence, responsibility, accountability, fairness, and transparency) established as guideline in Principle 1 of King IV (which also applies to SOEs) must be understood and translated into observable attitudes and behaviours in order to ensure legitimacy, adequate control, and sound performance.

In South Africa, it is the prerogative of a minister to influence decision-making by unquestioningly enforcing nominations, selection processes, and appointments as prescribed by the ruling party. Since the State is the main shareholder of many of our SOEs, some political interference seems inevitable. This does not absolve the State of the ethical obligation to the country to nominate their preferred board members in an objective and transparent manner.

The starting point for such nominations is to apply the precedents set with the recent transparent appointment processes applied to key functionaries – the FSCA Commissioner, the Head of the NPA, the SARS Commissioner, and (most recently) the Chief Justice. The imminent appointment of an independent, competent, and trusted Public Protector is likely to further bolster the notion of objective appointments.

For the positions mentioned above, an independent panel of relevant stakeholders and experts were chosen to nominate suitable candidates who were all subjected to the same rigorous screening and interviews. There were a few sparks of objection by certain stakeholders, but overall, the process appears both valid and legitimate. While we must give the President credit for taking steps in ensuring that a transparent process was followed in nominating and electing the heads of NPA, SARS, as well the Eskom CEO, many state-owned institutions need to follow a similar methodology for key appointments.

The OECD guidelines on governance in SOEs propose the following process for selecting Board Members:

  • Set clear minimum criteria for board nominations.
  • Informally vet or advise on ministerial board nominations; and
  • Establish nomination committees.

This essentially means having nomination committees that consist of both government and non-governmental representatives. In centralised governments, nomination committees’ vet potential board members and provide the relevant minister with a shortlist of candidates. In more decentralised governments, permanent and independent agencies are formed. Their key responsibilities include vetting, nominating, and interviewing potential candidates. These agencies also provide training to the incoming candidates. It is, however, recommended that proper background checks, lifestyle audits, and appropriate scientific selection methods be applied to complement the key responsibilities of the agency.

According to the OECD, standard practice is to use private sector guidelines when selecting board candidates. This applies particularly to commercial SOEs such as Eskom, Transnet, and Prasa. The OECD further recommends that SOEs follow the same practice followed by several listed companies which entails having external nomination committees advising their annual general meetings. These committees may be comprised of both civil servants and private sector representatives.

South Africa has many capable and willing leaders who have the country’s best interest at heart. Numerous key professionals doing well in the private sector are willing to offer their skills and capacity to fix some of our SOEs where ‘fixing’ has sustainable development and renewed trust as key outcomes. SOEs have lost a lot of goodwill with the general public. While we may not be able to fix our SOEs overnight, a good starting point would be the formation of strong and independent governance structures. This first step would not only give confidence to ordinary South Africans but to the world beyond our borders; a world which is increasingly sceptical about our ability to run our institutions competently and ethically.

Lulama Qabaka is an Ethics and Anti-Corruption Specialist at The Ethics Institute.


Prof Leon van Vuuren is an Executive Director: Business and Professional Ethics at The Ethics Institute. He holds a Doctorate of Industrial Psychology from the University of Johannesburg. Prof van Vuuren is the author of The Ethics Office handbook, and co-author of the Code of Ethics and Institutionalising Ethics Handbooks.

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action: Flawed or Failed?

Nicole Konstantinopoulos

Lulama Qabaka

Transformation was sold on a dream of upliftment, more jobs, a better economy, and socioeconomic equality. Yet, our current standings would suggest that this dream has morphed into something of a nightmare. From safety concerns and ongoing unrest (like the recent looting and unruly action that shook the Nation), to scarce job opportunities and glass ceilings as a result of affirmative action, skilled South Africans are increasingly likely to resort to emigration.

Affirmative action was introduced in South Africa through the Employment Equality Act (EEA), 55 of 1998, four years after the end of Apartheid. The purpose thereof was to create opportunities for individuals coming from previously disadvantaged groups to increase diversity and promote equality. The EEA further defined affirmative action as ‘fair discrimination’, alongside discrimination based on inherent job requirements. However, with affirmative action came great controversy and ongoing debates.

Affirmative action is widely accepted as a positive, remedial action to redress historical injustices, caused by Apartheid. It is intended to allow for equal opportunity so that everyone can compete, in the form of education, training, and other opportunities. The advantages of affirmative action include boosting opportunities to provide education to previously disadvantaged students, especially at a tertiary level, and improving diversity within organisations across all levels. As a result, these opportunities should allow for individuals from previously disadvantaged groups to climb the socioeconomic ladder.

Affirmative action is often referred to as a ‘corrective action’, a ‘remedial action’, a ‘temporary strategy to achieve equality’, or a ‘transitory intervention strategy’ – terms which are indicative of a short-term solution to achieving an end goal. The ideal end goal of affirmative action is the achievement of diversity and equality, without lowering standards or prejudicing white South Africans. In other words, affirmative action is not about a levelling-down approach so that we all suffer equally – which would be advocating for a retributive approach to justice – and it is also not about providing equal treatment to all (which would defy the notion of providing extra care to those who need it). Rather, it is about uplifting those who were previously disadvantaged so that all South Africans are afforded the same opportunities. However, that’s unfortunately not how things have unfolded, and the reality of the South African socioeconomic environment raises the question of whether affirmative action has been implemented in an ethical manner.

Defining affirmative action as ‘fair discrimination’ is oxymoronic which raises some eyebrows. Affirmative action undoubtedly has some cons. Firstly, meritocracy may be discouraged in education institutions, which may result in a lowered standard and negatively impact our global standing. Secondly, those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds may not necessarily earn the respect of those around them because of the belief that they are climbing the socioeconomic ladder because of affirmative action and not their hard work, resulting in undermining achievements of individuals from previously disadvantaged groups. Not to mention the psychological impact this may have on individuals; doubting the motives behind their appointments and whether they can attribute these to their hard work and talent, or purely their employment equity status. In addition, affirmative action is linked specifically to race, gender, and/or disability, and does not always appropriately assess whether an individual was previously disadvantaged. Thus, it is often criticized as a policy that mainly benefits the middle and upper classes whilst neglecting to meet the needs of those within lower income brackets. Lastly, some individuals may see affirmative action as simply reverse discrimination which adds to the divide between groups, defeating the purpose of creating a united nation.

In addition, window dressing (the deceptive practice of hiring people from previously disadvantaged groups to increase an organisation’s appearance, without truly empowering the affirmed employees) has a similar negative impact on employee morale. There is a higher level of previously disadvantaged Individuals at lower levels in organisations than there are at higher levels where they would make significant impact within the organisation. Another method currently being employed includes offering politically connected black South Africans top positions in exchange for political favours. This further raises the question of whether affirmative action practices are being applied ethically across the board?

According to Stats SA, South Africa’s current unemployment rate has hit a new record of 34.4% in the second quarter of 2021. Further analysis indicates that the black African population has a higher rate of unemployment (38.2%) than the national average, whilst black African women are the most vulnerable at an unemployment rate of 41%. This seems contradictory to the specific purposes of affirmative action given that these two groups constitute the ideal benefactors of the practice. A shocking 64.4% of youth unemployment indicates that about one in every two young people between the ages of 15-34 do not have a job. Given the current unemployment rate for these groups, one cannot help but question whether affirmative action is really achieving what it was set out to.

A further issue that has arisen is the loss of highly skilled individuals who are frustrated by a system designed to hinder their job search or progress and consequently emigrate to more promising countries. Whilst the population percentage of other minorities (Coloured and Indian/Asian) seem to remain somewhat stable, the white population seems to be on a continuous decline, dropping from 9% in 2011 to 7.8% in 2021 (Stats SA). Far too often job adverts are placed with the phrase “strictly only EE applicants apply” or are only placed as a check-box recruitment practice whilst the chosen candidate has already been selected. Highly skilled professionals are reaching glass ceilings or being passed over for jobs as a result of affirmative action, leaving them with little alternative other than emigration. As the world begins to open, a potential emigration wave may impact South Africa, with potentially detrimental implications for investors, businesses, municipalities, and tax revenue.

Affirmative action has been misused and abused, and unfortunately both those who were previously disadvantaged and those who were not are currently suffering at the hands of it. With a growing skills shortage and minuscule economic growth, misplaced priorities raise concerns that all South Africans should consider as we approach our local government elections.

(Thought pieces reflect the views of the authors and not that of The Ethics Institute.)

Nicole Konstantinopoulos is an Assistant Researcher at The Ethics Institute and holds a M. Com. in Industrial Psychology from the University of Pretoria.


Lulama Qabaka is an Ethics and Anti-Corruption Specialist at The Ethics Institute.

Whistleblower protection – are we huffing and puffing in the right direction?

Lead Article, Liezl Groenewald

25 September 2021

The murder of Babita Deokaran in August 2021 has sparked much public debate about the protection of whistleblowers. And rightfully so. By now the nation is aware of the many consequences that whistleblowers suffer for speaking truth to power, and by all accounts, the legislation that promises to protect them, the Protected Disclosures Act (26 of 2000), has spectacularly failed most, if not all.

In 2014, I wrote an article about South Africa’s whistleblowing framework having received the highest possible rating of three stars in a report by global law firm DLA Piper for providing express protection to those making legitimate disclosures. That meant that South Africa outdid Germany, France, Hong Kong, and Australia and was on par with the laws of the US, UK, and China. I quoted Aadil Patel of the law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, saying that “South Africa, having come out of an era of darkness, had joined the international community in promoting openness and accountability.” If only that was true.

In February this year, the U.S.-based Government Accountability Project and the U.K.-based International Bar Association released the findings of its survey of the whistleblowing frameworks in 37 countries. The purpose of this survey was to establish whether these frameworks are working. It comes as no surprise that South Africa’s Protected Disclosures Act met only five of the 20 criteria for measuring effectiveness, together with Britain, Japan, and Pakistan. This means that the plight of South African whistleblowers is shared with that of many others globally, and that is not reassuring for people who want to report wrongdoing.

Since March 2021 various high-profile people in South Africa have made the nation aware that our protection legislation must be improved. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Pres Ramaphosa (on at least two occasions), Prof Thuli Madonsela (former Public Protector), Adv Andy Mothibi (Head of the SIU) and Adv Willie Hofmeyr (former head of the SIU and Asset Forfeiture Unit) acknowledged publicly that the law needed improvement, and their buy-in is much appreciated. But that hymn has now been sung. I have said before – talk is cheap. Action is what counts.

Babita Deokaran needed that action to be taken. In 2009 Moss Phakoe, killed for speaking up about extensive corruption in the Rustenburg municipality, also needed action. And so did Jimmy Mohlala, erstwhile speaker of the Mbombela municipality who was shot for blowing the whistle on corruption in the building of Mpumalanga’s 2010 World Cup stadium.

While the government is dragging their feet to improve the law, civil society has not. Not-for-profit organisations such as the Citizens of Conscience Foundation and the Active Citizens Movement have publicly protested for change. The recently established Whistleblower House promises to assist whistleblowers with access to legal, psychological, safety and other services to enable them to deal with all the detriments they usually face.

It should, however, not be forgotten that most whistleblowers first speak up within their organisations. Therefore, organisations also have a responsibility to protect their employees who dare to stand up for what is right. A 2019 study (Groenewald, L. and Vorster, P. 2019. South African Business Ethics Survey) found that 32% of employees in the private sector in South Africa did not report known or observed wrongdoing because they feared victimisation. This belief can only be based on either hearsay or having observed the victimisation of colleagues who blew the whistle. Either way, their belief is justified as countless whistleblowers have publicly spoken out about how they have been victimised.

The question then is how can such practices be stopped? The purpose of whistleblowing is to alert an organisation or other entities that something is wrong. Whistleblowers speak up because they believe that someone will take action to stop the wrongdoing. They speak up because they believe that others will listen and treat the information as confidential. And while this does indeed happen, there are still too many instances where the focus changes from the message to the messenger.

While one would assume that organisations would be thankful to be alerted about unethical conduct in their midst, it only happens in organisations with strong ethical cultures where high levels of accountability exist, where senior and middle management, as well as employees, are committed to ethical conduct, where employees are treated ethically and where consistent awareness has been created about its ethical standards. Groenewald and Vorster’s research showed a direct correlation between strong ethical cultures and the willingness of employees to report unethical behaviour. In organisations with strong ethical cultures, nearly two-thirds of employees who observed misconduct, reported it, while only 44% of employees in organisations with weak ethical cultures did so. Organisations with strong ethical cultures take people to task when they have transgressed the norms and standards of the organisation by holding them accountable. In such organisations reports of unethical behaviour are taken seriously and are investigated. Whistleblowers are acknowledged for who they are – people with strong moral values, who care about, and are loyal to, their organisations, and who believe that they can make a difference. They should not be victimised. They should be thanked for their contribution to upholding the organisation’s espoused ethical standards.

To get back to the huffing and puffing about whistleblowing protection legislation – does South Africa need stronger legislation? Yes, of course, it does. Would stronger legislation proactively protect whistleblowers from victimisation? Not necessarily. The answer lies in creating strong ethical cultures in organisations. A culture where the focus is only on the message and where the messenger’s identity is kept confidential and only shared on a need-to-know basis. That is how whistleblowers can be protected. Calls for better legislation are good and necessary, but the protection of whistleblowers is not just the responsibility of the State. No, this responsibility is first and foremost that of the entity to who the whistleblower reached out.

Liezl BA Circle

Liezl Groenewald is a Senior Manager: Organisational Ethics Development at The Ethics Institute. She is the author of the Whistleblowing Management Handbook and co-author of the Institutionalising Ethics Handbook.

Whistleblowing information at your fingertips…at last. Introducing the Whistleblowing Without Fear app.

Article by Werner Bouwer, in collaboration with Brendan Grealy and Michelle Perrow

When I presented my first awareness training session 15 years ago to a listed company’s staff, and the employees started explaining why they didn’t feel comfortable using their (totally anonymous) hotlines to report fraud, I was stunned. At the time, these seemed like excuses from employees for not buying into anonymous reporting facilities.

But as the years progressed and my experience dealing with ‘would-be whistle-blowers’ deepened, I realised whistle-blowers need to trust the idea and legitimacy behind reporting facilities.

It does not help repeating that anonymity makes hotlines ‘fool-proof’ against victimisation. Because the concern of victimisation, which is a form of abuse of power, is real. Too much airtime and publicity are given to this abuse of power – which is unfortunately pervasive in our democracy.

Legitimate employee concerns get buried under fear. And fear becomes an ‘all too easy excuse’ to bypass the reporting duty and look the other way, which means nothing gets done.

And so, the rot of corruption festers. A snowball effect.

There are too many wrongs in the picture above.

But heroes can rise to the surface. Reports can be made, and investigations launched. Sadly, the more powerful the suspect, the longer it takes. The whistle-blower can still be victimised and sometimes publicly denigrated. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said if you want to test a person’s character, you should give the person power.

But eventually, the power imbalance can be restored. The whistle-blower vindicated. This can, however, come at a high price for the whistle-blower with much personal sacrifice.

Since that first awareness training session 15 years ago I’ve shared lecture and meeting rooms with many employees as part of whistleblowing awareness campaigns, from juniors all the way to management. I have read many policies relating to whistleblowing and ethics. Some employers have the genuine intention to make a difference. Others implement these campaigns as knee-jerk reactions – a ‘paper’ compliance programme – to ‘tick the right box’.

Too often, awareness campaigns are limited to a ‘you have a duty to report, here is the number, and it will be anonymous; so, do not fear’.

On too few occasions, there was content communicated as ‘occupational detriment’, what it meant and its legal implications. Sadly, the response often received when using this term in the workplace is deafening silence, question marks on faces and a lack of understanding. All this despite the term coming from our own legislation which is some 21 years old.

But what would happen if the employer, as part of their awareness campaign and communication plan, not only shared the hotline number and reporting mechanisms, automatically guaranteed anonymity, and a safe space for reporting, and reminded employees of their reporting duty on top of the following:

  • Describing in layman’s terms how whistleblowing protection for employees works
  • Equipping employees with the right knowledge and resources to gain confidence in reporting wrongdoing
  • Providing access to whistleblowing courts cases – bringing the action and results of whistleblowing to life which shows there can be success when rights are exercised
  • Providing information on regulatory compliance for employers, ensuring they provide a safe space for all would-be whistleblowers

Would this knowledge and these resources not remove the barriers preventing reporting? Would they not build confidence in potential whistle-blowers? I believe they would.

The Whistleblowing Without Fear app provides all the above and more, and it does it all for free.  It is not only an informational guide for employees, but also provides compliance parameters for employers at no cost.

The app was created by individuals with proven experience in ethics consulting, fraud and corruption risk management, law enforcement and communications, and a passion for justice.   Three companies (Lesoba Difference, Nexus Integrity and Compliance Solutions and Corrie Campbell Corporate Communications) partnered to create the Whistleblowing Without Fear app.

Are some organisations cults?

Thought piece by Annie Ou Yang

No matter where you go in life, there are always rules for behaviour, written or unwritten, that need to be followed. In many ways, we are like schoolchildren waiting for school to end to be freed from all those pesky rules. However, only more behavioural rules, albeit different and more societal, awaited.

Most behavioural rules (i.e., tenets that must be adhered to behaviourally and/or attitudinally) exist for a reason (i.e., to protect us and others from making mistakes encountered in the past) but as time goes by some behavioural rules and tendencies may become less relevant or maladaptive. Yet, these behavioural guiding mechanisms, even if counterintuitive to follow, are in many cases accepted and internalised even if they serve no purpose and are harmful. This is an outcome of being assimilated by a culture also known as getting a group of people to follow the same rules for the same reasons. A business term for this blind obedience to rules within organisations is the adage of: “we have always done it this way”. However, there is danger behind just following the way it was done in the past

The behavioural rules that exist in organisations are purposed to influence and control the behaviour and thinking of employees. Usually, these behavioural rules are adaptive (they help the organisation to survive and thrive within a particular context) and benefit employees. Some of these behavioural rules are formal (such as code of conduct, or values statement, and/or policies and procedures) while others are informal (such as organisational traditions and what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour both implicitly and explicitly). The internalisation of these behavioural rules is vitally important for continuing the organisational culture and aligning employees with its goals and values.

In other words, behavioural rules are used to create an organisational culture, but there is also a fine line where the same set of behavioural rules, meant to create an adaptive organisational culture, can be abused to benefit only a few top leaders in the organisation.

When this happens, the organisational technically engaged in cult-like behaviour. A cult is defined as a group of people who are controlled by a smaller group or an individual whose primary purpose is to control the group through psychological manipulation and pressure strategies (Rousselet et al., 2017). This is often why the Nazis, Maoists, and Stalinists are referenced by historians as cults due to the propaganda and pressure strategies they applied to ensure conformity.

The danger of cults is that their influence can be so sinister and well-hidden that some people do not even know they are in one. If you were to ask Nazis, Maoists, or Stalinists whether they were cultists, they would vehemently disagree. Moreover, some groups do not acknowledge they are a cult, even when they meet all the criteria. This demonstrates just how susceptible most of us are to group influence (something that the famous social psychologist Philip Zimbardo wrote extensively about in his book The Lucifer Effect).

But you may be asking, what set of characteristics define a cult? We mention the most salient aspects below:

  1. Devotion to the institution: Members are told exactly what they want to hear so that they feel loved and important. Real action on what is promoted is highly differentiated.
  2. Loyalty to the institution: Psychological manipulation or pressure strategies are used until members become entirely dependent on the organisation and lose their ability to make independent choices. This can be done through threats of expulsion after making members completely dependent on the institution. For example, the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, and the Peoples Temple (famous cults) often lured prospective cult members to transfer all their financial and material wealth over to the institution before being admitted.
  3. An “us vs them” mentality: The organisation is viewed as a haven, with outsiders viewed as the enemy or undesirable. In other words, the cult tells its followers what they what to hear and select for those that buy in and reject those that do not.
  4. Strict adherence to rules/devotion to the ideal: Rules may turn into rituals (such as traditions) that are adhered to without question. This also binds the group together and reiterates its values. For example, at Enron, the annual leadership getaway where senior executives consumed alcohol, hired strippers, and engaged in risky and physically dangerous behaviours become legend throughout the organisation. It reiterated the ideal of high risk and high reward and the survival of the fittest.
  5. Intolerance of nonconformity: Questioning, doubting, and opposing any of the organisation’s behavioural rules or assumptions are ignored or vehemently punished. Individuals who do not fall in line are passed over for promotion or are performance managed out of the organisation. In extreme cases this can be transferred into intimidation, scaremongering, and psychological or physical abuse.

After reading through these characteristics, you may start to see some similarities to some business and political organisations. If we consider that an organisation should have all the characteristics mentioned to be viewed as a cult then Enron, Worldcom, Wells Fargo, Steinhoff, and Volkswagen, during the emissions scandal, have all engaged in cult-like behaviour. We could even argue that the ruling party in South Africa might be fighting a factional battle between the dual characteristics of a governing organisation (i.e., the Ramaphosa faction) and a cult (the Zuma faction). It also becomes problematic when cadres who share the same political ideal are deployed across local and government institutions, even those that need to act as watchdogs of other institutions.

Consider the following cult-like behaviours seen in many organisations such as wearing the same uniform, using only the organisation’s products, and being barred from associating formally or informally with competitors. It becomes even scarier when we start to evaluate organisations such as Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, and Google for cult-like behaviours (we remind you of point 5). In the long term, once employees are effectively assimilated into the culture, and become devoted and loyal to their organisation (this also means that the undesirables have been selected out at this stage), they are likely willing to do anything for their organisation and its leadership, even without reason. That is the key, there is not objective logic in a cult, it’s bare emotion. Moreover, if societal issues are also considered, such as high unemployment rates or being the breadwinner in the family, employees may feel they do not have any other choice but to acquiesce to a set of values and behaviours they do not fundamentally agree with. Many Nazi Party members did reprehensible things they knew were wrong but feared expulsion for not following orders. The similarities with modern organisations like Enron are pertinent.

It is becoming evident then that some organisations use their organisational culture as an instrument to indoctrinate and control. This could also be viewed as a ‘strong’ culture. It is therefore imperative that organisations consider whether they are not only building a strong organisational culture, but also an ‘ethical’ one. That is, an organisational culture that balances what is good for it (i.e., financial sustainability, discipline, productivity, and growth) with what is good for its stakeholders (both employees and those that interact externally with the organisation).

This is what would be considered the stakeholder focused approach to organisational ethical culture, something encapsulated in the King series of Reports on Good Corporate Governance. However, other ingredients that are needed include independent-mindedness and the tolerance of individual differences. In short, what circumvents cult-like behaviour is the principle of self-determination (i.e., allowing employees to have the freedom to make their own choices and determine their values beyond those of the organisation) and authoritative leadership that supports a shared vision, but does not digress into authoritarianism where one leader wants totalitarian control.

For instance, Enron would fire employees or isolate those that questioned the operation or philosophy of the organisation. They also encouraged employees to invest all their retirement savings in Enron stock options, which employees lost when the organisation filed for bankruptcy. A local example would be Steinhoff, where employees were promised shares that could allow them to take their family on overseas holiday trips; however, irregularities occurred when the shares were paid out and the investors became the victims. That is, some employees did not receive enough to even afford a trip, but they all bought in. Let us not even speak of the cult-like behaviour in the Bernie Madoff saga. The outcomes of all this blind obedience by employees, investors, and in some cases even clients were made possible through group conformity, obedience to authority, and indoctrination into the behavioural rules of a cult-like organisation. In other words, misusing the organisational culture.

We are by no means saying that organisational cultures and their formulation are wrong or without extensive merit. It is imperative to the survival of an organisation to have an organisational culture identity. Organisational cultures are largely positive and have many advantages (i.e., benefit the organisation somehow). An organisation’s culture can attract and motivate employees, disseminate institutional knowledge and experience, create shared goals and meaning, and unlock synergies. However, organisational cultures can also be used to control and serve the needs and ends of a few. An organisation that has a mature ethical culture would support and promote ethical conduct that is concerned with what is good for the self (the organisation) and other (internal and external stakeholders).

It is important to acknowledge that leaving a cult is difficult, but as the late Maya Angelou said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”


Rousselet, M., Duretete, O., Hardouin, J. B., & Grall-Bronnec, M. (2017). Cult membership: What factors contribute to joining or leaving? Psychiatry Research, 257, 27-33.

Annie Ou-Yang

Annie Ou-Yang is an Industrial and Organisational Psychology Intern at The Ethics Institute. 

To nudge or not to nudge?

Lead article by Dr Paul Vorster

Have you ever wondered how many of your decisions are really your own? It is scary to consider the age-old question of whether we as humans have agency in our world or what we would call ‘free will’. In other words, do we make our own decisions and choices independent from outside influence? Could it be that the craving for a soft drink, the purchase of a particular product, or selection of a political affiliation could be governed by others manipulating us into these wants, decisions, and actions? Are we making these decisions, or is there an invisible puppet master pulling our strings duping us into thinking we are making our ‘own’ decisions?

And yes, I am talking about many South African food and pharmacy retailers here. You know what I mean. The health food mantra’s, the green lifestyles, with one catch. Getting out of these stores with your healthy food means you first must battle through the sweet aisle gauntlet. Food retailers also know that food shoppers usually do their shopping on an empty stomach. Pick up your blood pressure tablets only to run into a blood pressure shattering sodium covered 500g pure beef biltong packet staring at you.

As a species we are familiar with the practice of manipulation, it is referenced biblically and within legends as old as writing itself. If you have children, you understand the concept very well. Some would argue that the practice is viewed pejoratively. We manipulate when we want someone to do something that could benefit us (the manipulator), usually at some expense to the other (the person being manipulated). The key is to get the person to do something that you want them to do without them knowing.

So, manipulation is often covert in nature and may include strategies such as obfuscation (hiding the truth in ambiguity and misdirection); dishonesty (lying directly); and applying pressure (often referred to as pushing, pulling, or nudging). In the last instance tactical elements such as social pressure, shaming, exploiting individual weaknesses and guilting may come into play to get the person to do something the manipulator wants them to do.

But is manipulation always wrong? In other words, what if I were to manipulate someone for the greater good, or the best interests of the person being manipulated. For example, could I manipulate someone into exercise by talking about the shocking heart attack statistics worldwide during a hearty lunch, or pointing out how the neighbours are on a diet and walking every morning? You could take a more direct course and tell the person they are unattractively obese. Do so at your own peril. All these methods do not make the person choose exercise directly, but strongly points or nudges them in that direction.

Is the initial psychological discomfort worth the outcome? Well, if you are utilitarian, then yes. But, how do you know that the cost of the psychological discomfort is worth the outcome? What if shaming someone for their body-weight results in a rigorous exercise regime (the outcome we wanted) that then causes a dreaded heart attack (oh dear)? Are you culpable? We could add an additional question, are you in a position to know what is good for the other with certainty? Enough certainty that it should be ok to manipulate them into doing something. It is just a ‘nudge’ after all and in the right direction.

Also, what about the rights of the individual? What if the person has a very low IQ, or cognitive disability and is easily manipulated? Should we covertly nudge them in the right direction and make choices we believe are in their best interests covertly? The mantra being, do unto others as you want them to do, without telling them.

Let’s jump from the hypothetical to the real. Recently, the British Psychological Society (BPS) was asked via an open letter by 47 prominent psychologists whether the deployment of ‘covert psychological nudging’ should be used as a method to gain the public’s compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. The argument extends to the nudging of people to get vaccinated.

Of particular concern were the methods employed by psychologists in public health campaigns using fear inflation (scaring the public), scapegoating (singling out a group or individual for unmerited blame), and shaming (making people feel guilty for a particular choice) to get people to adhere to COVID restrictions and get vaccinated.

The psychologists complaining about this practice believe strongly that the infliction of increased psychological stress on the public to induce certain ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ public health behaviours is unethical. That this technique is contributing to an already psychologically stressed public. That any health professional must first and foremost, not harm. Additionally, these psychologists believe that deciding on behalf of the public in a sort of maternalistic/paternalistic manner is not only condescending but a form of manipulation through public health propaganda.

Now many may argue that this is for the greater good and that people should be vaccinated and should adhere to COVID restrictions. That ‘nudging’ people in this direction is not a bad idea. It is no secret that public health ad campaigns have used this technique for many years, not to mention marketers of every shape and size (remember that sweet aisle). So, what is the big deal?

We can argue that general restrictions such as social distancing and mask-wearing have little side-effect physically, but the mental demands of isolation and the inability to see someone’s face when conversing could be psychologically and mentally harmful over the long term. There are already a few studies of childhood development and mask-wearing making the rounds. In this case, however, nudging someone to wear a mask and stay six feet away from others to avoid being six feet under is a good idea. But what about more invasive procedures such as vaccinations?

Do not get me wrong, I am not an anti-vaxxer, I received my first ‘jab’ a week ago. I believe it was my own decision and that I had the free will to choose, probably. The vaccine is a little different though, partly because it may have long-term side effects (we do not yet know) and can be dangerous for a very small percentage of people. Generally, though, getting vaccinated is thousands of times safer than eating peanut butter. But what about informed consent?

Even in cases where an individual is cognitively challenged, every effort is made to meticulously try and explain any medical procedure. Even if such a person is placed in guardianship (a person making decisions legally on behalf of the cognitively challenged person), decisions about them from a medical perspective are painstakingly weighed up by courts, attorneys, and medical professionals and some form of consent from the person still sought. There are even limits to deciding for your children in the Western world (refer to corporal punishment here).

Informed consent is knowing about the procedure in detail, understanding the advantages and risks associated with the procedure, and being capable of consenting or not consenting to the procedure of your own volition or free will. In other words, you need to make the choice yourself and should never be coerced into making it. Also, every effort must be made to provide objective information about the procedure to you.

With vaccinations, nudging could be argued to be a form of covert coercion, especially if the techniques mentioned earlier in this article are referred to. The right to be informed and the right to consent are fundamental ethical principles in the medical sciences. Nudging may be a violation in this case.

There is another danger. What if the covert nudging strategy backfires? People do not like to be manipulated without their knowledge. It is perceived as a form of dishonesty that may breed distrust and a massive increase in the conspiracy theory and anti-vaxxer population. Just take the incident of lying about the effectiveness of mask-wearing by Dr Anthony Fauci and the CDC in the opening salvo of the pandemic. Later retracting this statement and explaining that they lied about the effectiveness of masks to protect stockpiles for medical professionals. This decision has had dire outcomes with mask-wearing becoming a huge problem for a large proportion of the public because the debate of their effectiveness continues, even though there is no debate.

It is possible that by covertly nudging individuals trust could be eroded between the ‘Nudger’ and the ‘Nudgee’ so that the person being nudged responds by completely distrusting something that could actually be in their best interests? I will let you decide.

Paul circle

Dr Paul Vorster is a Senior Research Specialist at The Ethics Institute.  He holds a Doctors Degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology from the University of Johannesburg.  Dr Vorster is also the co-author of the Ethics Ambassador Handbook.

More than ever before, South Africa needs moral heroes

Thought piece – Dr Paul Vorster

Mass lootings, violence, political destabilization, and anarchy. You would be forgiven for believing that this must be some other war-torn country we all read about or see in the news. But you would be mistaken. This is the description of our home, South Africa.

Communities are shaken by the extent and scope of the looting and lawlessness that started in KwaZulu Natal and then escalated quickly to the Gauteng Province. As the situation currently stands more than 1700 looters have been arrested, soldiers are being deployed (and called up), and we are heading for even more restrictions on our freedoms. As if COVID was not enough to contend with we now have the very real possibility of food, fuel, and medicine shortages. This can only exacerbate the pressure on an already buckling public health sector.

Of course, this does not include the people who lost their lives and the countless who were injured as communities suddenly turned on one another.

And yet, South Africa has moral heroes. People who are willing to stand up in times of adversity and try to make things better. When a mother is blindly able to trust the reliable and capable hands of strangers to catch her child as she escapes a looted and burning building, we start to see a metaphor arise from the ashes of South Africa. Is South Africa baby Melokuhle? Falling from ruin into the capable hands of good and reliable citizens willing to clean up the mess, rebuild, and create law and order. Should we not be proud of the heroic deeds done by so many people during one of the darkest periods of South African history?

It is easy to lose trust in South Africa and its people. That distrust becomes even more salient and harmful when it happens within and amongst a country’s citizenry. Philip Zimbardo, a famous social psychologist dedicated most of his career to understanding the nature of evil. Zimbardo realised that there are not a few bad apples that cause all the trouble, but rather than any of us can be capable of terrible and evil deeds. It is the dark con of humanity that we are both beautiful and terrible at the same time.

However, Zimbardo also realised that although humanity may fall victim to blind obedience to authority, social conformity, and apathy, we also have the capability of rising above this tendency. Those among us are heroes, people who are willing to do what is right, even if that comes at a great cost to them personally.

Let me give an example of a hero. Dr Suhayl Essa was already battling against COVID at a Hillbrow clinic when the looting started. Then while being looted and fearing for their safety the trauma patients started coming in. Did Dr Essa run? No, he stayed and worked an 18-hour shift helping patients while fearing for his safety and the safety of other healthcare workers. He helped the very people who threatened him.

Then there is the Tembisa community who used their very bodies to protect their mall from looting. Think about this, random community members willing to give up their physical safety and integrity to protect their local mall.

Although Zimbardo understood that heroes do exist, he also realised something unexpected. Anyone can be a hero. While trying to profile people who engage in moral courage and heroism Zimbardo could find only one constant. These heroes were normal run of the mill people. They were not special, weird, or rare. Rather everyone has the capacity to be a moral hero. The question of whether someone will act as one usually only arises in moments of adversity. In other words, moral courage and heroism need an additional ingredient, adversity.

It is, therefore, more important than ever that we as South Africans transcend our tendency for evil and engage our tendency for good. This is the only thing that can save us.  As baby Melokuhle falls, her mother trusts that she will fall into the capable hands of her fellow South Africans.

Paul circle

Dr Paul Vorster is a Senior Research Specialist at The Ethics Institute and co-author of the Ethics Ambassador Handbook

Local government: Flawed people or flawed system?

Lead article – Kris Dobie

Good ethical leadership in local government is a rarity – and I have a premise about why this is the case. As of recently, this premise is also grounded in research, which should give it some more credence.

The Ethics Institute has been doing work in local government since at least 2009. Initially, we worked with individual municipalities to do training and to introduce the concept of ethics management. Since 2014 we have been working with all the local and metro municipalities in Gauteng (in partnership with Provincial Government) on a project to institutionalise ethics management.

In our engagement with municipal employees, they frequently spoke of “challenges at the political-administrative interface” and mentioned “political interference” as a challenge. The one message that kept coming through is that you won’t solve ethics in local government unless you address it at the leadership level.

This consistent message led us to conceptualise the Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative (LGELI). We wanted to have a national dialogue on ethical leadership at the local government level to better understand the dynamics, and then to address these through a Code for Ethical Governance in South African Local Government. Much like the King Code for Corporate Governance gives principles that guide companies on sound governance principles, we believe that there are many local government-specific challenges that require similar guidance.

We approached the Department for Cooperative Governance (DCoG), as well as the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), who both saw the merits of the project. These two organisations, together with the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) are our key partners in a project that has taken shape over the past few years and is now in full implementation mode.

Over the last few months, we have been working with our partners and their provincial equivalents to set up interviews and focus groups in all nine provinces. It was important for us to not only get one side of the picture, so we had separate focus groups with councillors, with senior officials, and also with civil society representatives – to get the all-important community view.

But the most revealing insights came from those who are part of the system – the councillors and officials themselves.

Perhaps it is best to start with the mood of the conversations. If I had to sum it up, it would be a mix of frustration and desperation.

We spoke to many phenomenal people who work in this sphere of government. Yet only the strongest and most experienced seem able to successfully navigate this complex mix of turbulent politics and burdensome bureaucracy. And even they are tired.

The local government system is designed with the intention that there should be a divide between the political sphere (council) and the administrative sphere (officials). Councillors should be elected (through free and fair elections) and officials should be appointed based on their skills and expertise, and the need to correct for previous unfair discrimination.

The strongest theme to emerge from the research is that the first damage to the system occurs when politicians appoint (or “deploy”) people who have political connections rather than the requisite skills and expertise to do the job.

An inevitable consequence is obviously a degradation of a culture of professionalism. Such deployed officials are beholden to those who have deployed them rather than to the Constitution and the legislation.

They also frequently lack the competence required of them to do their job, which further entrenches their vulnerability to their political ‘handlers’. Secondary damage is then inflicted on the system as these people themselves make other inappropriate appointments. The intended boundary between the political and administrative spheres shrinks away, opening the administration up to all the turbulence of the political sphere.

So entrenched is the web of patronage appointments, that enforcing any kind of accountability (or consequences for misconduct) becomes extremely unlikely. Even those members of the top management team who want to take a stand can’t do so, because they can relatively easily be suspended or fired by an antagonistic council. Top managers are appointed by the council on a 5-year contract – which means they can also be removed by the council.

(In the private sector the board appoints the CEO of the company. From there on their task is to provide strategic direction and oversight.

If they were to also appoint the next level of management one can only imagine the levels of factionalism that would ensue, especially if board factions were to change every five years.)

All the above makes for a complex governance environment and is significantly fuelled by the socio-economic realities in South Africa. These descriptions do not necessarily play out in the same way in all municipalities, but the themes are so pervasive that one can only deduce that the problem cannot be purely a case of bad leaders, but that there must also be systemic challenges.

The political system (especially at the local government level) is by its nature extremely volatile. The current legislative environment gives the council too much space to appoint people into the administration (and to remove them at will) thereby causing this political volatility to spill over into the administration. This causes a breakdown of what was intended to be a stable bureaucratic system with competent employees aligned not to changing political winds, but to an overarching ethos of service delivery.

So herewith, my premise about why ethical leadership is so rare in local government.

It is not so much that we have too many bad people, but more that the system we follow in local government makes ethical leadership really, really difficult. We cannot simply continue to appeal to leaders to do better. We must help them by making some changes in the system.

The Local Government Ethical Leadership Initiative is a long-term project. This year we continue with research, and next year we will continue our engagement in the sector, looking to formulate solutions together with councillors, officials, political parties and communities.

Kris Circle


Kris Dobie is a Senior Manager: Organisational Ethics at The Ethics Institute

Applauding whistleblowers isn’t enough

By: Prof Deon Rossouw 

Whistleblowers played a key role in exposing fraud and corruption in both private and public sector organisations involved in state capture. Without the vital information disclosed by whistleblowers the exposure of the extent of state capture by initially the previous public protector and later by the Zondo and other commissions of inquiry would have unfolded much slower and in much less detail.

We owe these whistleblowers deep gratitude for what they have done – often at huge personal cost. And we need to applaud them for what they have done. But we owe them more than just gratitude and applause.

It is not always clear what drives whistleblowers to expose information about wrongdoing that they have encountered. In most cases whistleblowers are driven by ethical considerations, but there are also cases where persons blew the whistle for self-interested or less noble reasons – the Angelo Agrizzi case comes to mind. Speculating about the motives of whistleblowers is a fairly futile exercise.

Although the motives of whistleblowers may not always be clear, there is a clear pattern in what tends to happen with whistleblowers once they have blown the whistle. And that is the real tragedy of whistleblowing.

Often organisations tend not to listen to the message that the whistleblower wishes to convey, but rather opts for shooting – sometimes literally – and often firing the whistleblower.

The fate of whistleblowers is well documented in academic research and in more popular books and media articles. The pattern is clear: organisations tend to retaliate against whistleblowers, rather than protect them. That is why whistleblower legislation that attempts to protect whistleblowers against retaliation can be found in so many countries – and also here in South Africa in the form of the Protected Disclosures Act.

Despite the best of intentions behind such whistleblower protection legislation, the law seems to be incapable of preventing whistleblowers from retaliation, harm and often devastation.

A common pattern that can be seen in what typically happens to whistleblowers is that they are first threatened by those implicated in their whistleblower reports. This can either take the form of legal threats, intimidation, demotion, marginalisation, or dismissal. This inevitably results in a legal tussle between the whistleblower and the affected organisation. However, the legal battle is not fought on a level playing field. Very often organisations have deep pockets to hire the best legal minds, whilst the whistleblower has rather shallow pockets, or might soon be out of pocket. The legal costs might – and often are – too high for the whistleblower to afford.

And then there often are also high personal costs imposed on the whistleblower. Whistleblowers do not only tend to lose their jobs, but they also battle to find a new job, simply because other employers are hesitant to hire a person who has caused their previous employers a lot of trouble. Whistleblowers not only have to bear the brunt of high legal cost and the loss of income, but the way in which they are treated by their (former) employers and by society, leaves psychological scars, that might result in mental illness and in some cases in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This in turn might cause havoc in their personal relations and lead to the disintegration of family relations or end in a divorce. Often the cost of being a whistleblower becomes almost, if not totally, unbearable.

That is why whistleblowers need more than our applause. I believe we owe them more as a society, because it is often their acts as whistleblowers that prevent further harm not only to organisations, but also to their communities.

One way of assisting whistleblowers, would be to ensure that they do not suffer financially because of whistleblowing. In some jurisdictions – and notably in the USA – there are legislation that provide for the remuneration of whistleblowers. In terms of US legislation, whistleblowers can under certain conditions be awarded a proportion of money recovered through the action of the whistleblower. The problem, however, with this approach is that there are certain acts of whistleblowing that are not related to money being squandered, but to damage to communities or to the natural environment. Consequently, there would be no financial reward to whistleblowers in such cases. It also raises the question of whether whistleblowing should not be regarded as a civic duty, rather than as something that one should be financially awarded for.

The type of assistance that should be provided to whistleblowers should not only be financial but should provide much broader support. It should also include legal, psychological (and in some cases psychiatric), emotional and career support. Ideally such comprehensive support should be provided by an organisation that can coordinate the various forms of support.

There are some examples of organisations that do provide some of these types of support to whistleblowers.

The French organisation PPLAAF (Platforme de Protection des Lanceurs d’Alerte en Afrique / Platform for Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa) do provide free legal, media and advocacy support to whistleblowers. Although these services are provided for free to whistleblowers, there are substantial costs involved in providing such services, and therefore the organisation depends on support from other civil society organisations and donors. The challenge of sustaining an organisation on donor contributions – or crowd funding – is that donor sentiment and resources are fickle and can change quickly, which might leave the whistleblowing support organisation – and ultimately the whistleblowers – stranded.

Probably a more sustainable approach is the one behind the Whistleblower Centre in the Netherlands. This support centre that provides whistleblowers with advice and investigative support was established through the Whistleblowers Centre Act, and is funded by the state, but protected against state interference. Such an approach is safeguarded from the whims of donors or crowds, and therefore more likely to be sustained despite fluctuations in crowd or donor sentiment.

The detrimental experience of recent whistleblowers in South Africa, have garnered support for the establishment of a local organisation that can render comprehensive support to whistleblowers. The matter of funding such an initiative, however, remains a challenge.

The obvious immediate solution might be to rely on the goodwill of donors or the sympathy of people willing to provide crowdfunding for such an initiative. However, as indicated earlier, such funding is not reliable or stable.

The example of the Whistleblowing Centre in the Netherlands, where the state provides the funding to support such an organisation without controlling it, is a model well worth exploring here in South Africa. There is no doubt that the state has a stake in promoting the reporting of misconduct in both the public and private sectors. By supporting such an initiative, the state would show its commitment to root out irresponsible, illegal, and unethical conduct.

The state would furthermore be able to protect whistleblowers against the detrimental consequences of whistleblowing that will far exceed the protection currently offered by the Protected Disclosures Act.

Expenses associated with providing such a comprehensive support service to whistleblowers do not necessarily have to be covered by taxpayers, but a certain proportion of money recovered because of whistleblowing can be channeled to a fund that covers the expenses of such support to whistleblowers.

Applauding whistleblowers is not enough. We carry a collective responsibility to protect whistleblowers against the detriment associated with whistleblowing, but also to assist them comprehensively in getting on their feet again.

Deon Circle

Prof Deon Rossouw is the CEO of The Ethics Institute and an Extraordinary Professor in Philosophy at the Stellenbosch University.