Who spoke out against corruption
1968 – 2021
Babita Deokaran refused to remain silent when she discovered a network of financial fraud and corruption in the Gauteng Department of Health.
Deokaran had no intention of becoming an activist when she began her career. In fact, she was a civil servant who had started out as a clerk at the Gauteng Department of Health and worked her way up over three decades to become a senior financial officer. But, when she came across clear evidence of corruption at Tembisa Hospital she did not shy away from investigating further. Soon her enquiries led her to uncovering evidence of an extensive corruption network that had syphoned off R1-billion from state funds.
At that point she faced a choice: keep quiet or speak out, knowing that if she chose to become a whistle-blower, she might be endangering herself. Deokaran chose to share her findings with the Special Investigating Unit. She was put on special leave but was not given any other form of protection by the South African police service or state.
On the morning of 23 August 2021, Deokaran left her house in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg and drove her daughter to school. When she returned she was confronted by six armed assassins who shot her while she was in her car, in the driveway of her home.
While she was alive Deokaran had to work hard to persuade authorities of the evidence of wrongdoing which she had come across. After she was killed, her death caused shockwaves around South Africa, with many civil society organisations, the media and members of the judiciary calling on government to provide better protection for whistle-blowers.
Many criticised the fact that government employees were given protection details while whistle-blowers were not. As Pops Rampersad, the leader of the Active Citizens’ Movement (ACM) which campaigns for whistle-blower rights, put it: “It is brave people like Deokaran who will speak out and then be mercilessly taken out. It should not require death threats for whistle-blowers to be offered protection.”
Six suspects were arrested for Deokaran’s murder. On the eve of the second anniversary of her death they were found guilty and sentenced to a combined total of 95 years imprisonment. The identity of the person who ordered Deokaran’s murder remains unknown.
Illustration by Sindiso Nyoni.