LONDON — OUTA’s founder Wayne Duvenage and I are of the same vintage. We grew up in the same part of Newcastle, a small town in northern KZN, and attended the same high school. I even dated his sister for a few months. So it’s hardly surprising I’m one of the biggest fans of Wayne’s extraordinary successes in fighting the scourge of corruption in our native South Africa. His packed diary meant we were unable to see each other on my trip to the country last week. But yesterday we caught up on the phone where he shared ambitious plans for expanding SA’s crime-fighting phenomenon. Hope springs. – Alec Hogg
Well, I’m crossing to Randburg now, which is part of Johannesburg, and meeting up with my old pal from Newcastle days, Wayne Duvenage, who’s become famous as a whistle blower, an attacker of corruption. Wayne, you’ve come a long way from little Newcastle, KZN.
Absolutely, it’s been a long journey and I never expected it to go into this activism space, but I suppose that’s life hey. You’re not sure what the future holds and there’s a reason for why we’re here.
What got you into it because I remember you as a young guy being anti-establishment, I suppose is a polite way of saying it? You never really accepted authority just because people told you to do things. Is that something that goes through the genes?
It does. I was asked this question a couple of times and I had to think back and you’re quite right. Just going right back into one’s’ youth I certainly was somebody who challenged the status quo and questioned in my family discussions and debates at home as a youngster about religion and race, and so many different topics. I could see that the journey for me being somebody who didn’t just accept things the way they were. So, if it was irrational or if it didn’t make sense – I needed to make sense of it so, it’s been there from the beginning from one’s’ youth. All the way to varsity and into the corporate world and as a youngster growing up in the corporate world at Avis, I think that that approach enabled me to grow quite quickly into the management space because when you question, and you challenge the status quo you actually bring about change a lot faster than what would have been the case, and that’s what you need to be innovated and to grow and to lead in certain industries.
So, it’s playing out certainly, in the civil activism space that OUTA has taken up. It’s been a continuous journey. This innovative different new, fast paced and not accepting mediocrity and not tolerating mediocrity so, we’re not accepting irrational responses. I spent most of my corporate life growing in the car rental industry and I never saw that as an industry. I studied and saw my role in industrial psychology – that space, the human manpower space. But at the time, when I was looking for a job they were scarce in the mid-80s, and then this is the one that came up. It was a training position at Avis and the organisation was a learning organisation. It was a leading organisation and an innovative one and they challenged leadership to change the way they did business, and that was just the ideal ground for me, which is why I stayed there so long and my mentor, Glen van Heerden, at the time he didn’t know, he was a silent mentor. He gave the young managers the space to do that, to question and challenge the status quo. That enabled me to grow quite fast but you’re quite right. Normally in the corporate world that type of behaviour tends to set one back. Especially if you’re challenging the old guard who don’t want to be challenged. Then I think you’d find yourself in uncomfortable space and probably move on.
He was an unusual guy, wasn’t he, Glen van Heerden? Do you keep in touch?
Yes, we do. We stay in touch. I chat with him now and then, we have coffee on occasion and it’s just good to stay in touch with people who really set the scene and set the platform, and gave one the reins to grow. He was a formidable person in as far as training and development goes, and saw the role that that had. But also, one to empower people to make decisions and learn from one’s’ mistakes and I guess those are qualities that I’d like to play in my life.
Yes, there’s no doubt he’s very proud of you, as is everybody who knew you when you were young, growing up in Newcastle, but Wayne, attacking the Gauteng tolls and it developed from there into something far bigger.
Well, first of all, and going back to why we challenged the tolling, it was just grossly irrational. We knew it was never going to work and we could see it, but we needed to not take our eye off the E-Toll ball and we also needed to get the funding model right because without funds and without the support of the public civil society just becomes a barking dog. In other words, a dog who barks with no bit is ineffective in civil society. You’ve got to show government that your concerns are going to be challenged if they don’t change their behaviour. We needed to do that properly and the only way you can do it is to have people on your team, professional, passionate, activist minded people that can do the work. The other thing we needed to do was to save money on litigation and to move faster on litigation and that means you’ve got to build your own legal capacity. You have lawyers and advocates on your team working for you full time, investigators and researchers.
So, we started to build the model of what we wanted and said, if we got the funding right, the right funding model from society, people coming onboard, thousands of people giving us small amounts of money each month we would then be able to grow that team and that’s exactly what we did. We started out towards the end of 2015. We got a couple of good people in to help us with that strategy and put marketing communications in place. I guess it’s a case of taking civil activism. Meshing it or merging it with business practice with a number of researches. We’re working with universities, HSRC and other research houses that are assisting us. We’ve got a communications team and an operations team. The operations team really is around portfolios that manage all the projects in the specialist areas of energy, transport, communications, water, environment, and so forth. They become the spokesperson on all the projects and we’ve got a project management tool and a project management style of dealing with each case. We open it up. We approve it through a process on the Exco.
We have a board, and that board is growing. We’re getting more non-exec board members so, you can see how we’ve departmentalised it, structured it with good, talented people. We pay market related salaries because one thing we’ve also learnt is that you can’t run civil activism efficiently with volunteers. You can to a certain extent but the problem with that is that volunteers are here today and gone tomorrow. You’ve got to have sustainability. You’ve got to have continuity of employment because these cases that we manage takes years. Some of them will start now and only get to court and finished in 2 years’ time. You cannot have a high turnover of staff so, we need to pay market loaded salaries to get the talent in here and to have the continuity. Yes, it’s growing and if we get the next model right, the OUTA business and the OUTA local strategy right, our team will grow to probably around 160 – 180 in the next 3 years and it will be an incredibly formidable effective civil intervention organisation, in making this country a better place. That’s the plan and that’s the strategy.
And you’re using the courts as well?
Oh yes, look, what we do on all our projects and cases, it’s a multifaceted and a multi-pronged approach. We decide initially, when we set out on the purpose of each case and the outcomes we seek, is to seek the sanction against the perpetrators of corruption, crime, and maladministration in the most painful way as possible. Obviously, jail time is the best and we lay a lot of charges. We also depend on the NPA and the Hawks to do their job and we know that they might not be doing it as effectively as we want them to do now but the wheel does turn and things to come to a head at some stage. But we also take people straight to court, as we did in protecting the rehabilitation funds on the Optimum mines. As we’re doing with Dudu Myeni, declaring her a delinquent director, BNP Capital case.
So, in the other matters we’ll lay charges or lay complaints with the SA Chartered Accountants Institute or the Auditor General, the Competition Commission, and then from those initial strategies of laying the charges of the complaints where they should be, or the Public Protector. Then we start looking for the criminal actions, and we start laying other charges so, it gets quite complex but that’s why we’ve got a good legal team, headed up by a good advocate in Stephanie Fick. We’ve got a good chief operating officer in Ben Theron. Look, the team is growing rapidly and it’s really exciting stuff, what they’re doing here.
How much more will you be doing then with 160 – 180 people, in this longer term that you articulated?
That’s when we go into the local space. In other words, we take the same modus operandi or the mandate that we have in challenging those in authority who abuse their authority, and those in power who abuse the authority – we challenge them and hold them to account for maladministration corruption. The issue that is, Alec, is that at that national level where we are fighting, we’re dealing with state owned entities and it’s all good stuff, with ministers and DGs and that but the real pain in the experience of bad governance is felt at a local level. In other words, we’ve challenged municipalities around the country that the sewerage is running down the roads, the lights are turned off, or the electricity bills to Eskom by the municipalities are not paid. Road infrastructure, water infrastructure – it starts to collapse because the money doesn’t get to where it’s got to go.
The plundering in the maladministration corruption is taking place at level, it’s excessive. I cannot tell you how bad it is and what happens is the people in those local towns they find it very difficult to hold those municipal managers and mayors to account because they get harassed. Their water and lights get cut off. It really is tough, and they get threatened. OUTA’s strategy is to bring the strength of this brand with its litigation, its fund raising, its social media platforms the way we need to communicate with those communities – we can manage it from a distance and interact with the local leadership and start to hold those mayors to account. To get them to become transparent because the laws are very strong in the Municipal Finance Management Act, where they’ve got to be transparent. They’ve got to show how they’re spending the money and then we go and interdict them, and we lay charges and have them arrested. In that way we change the behaviour in those towns, but we work with the local communities.
We don’t try and do it ourselves. It’s not our problem it’s their problems but we assist them because our research shows that they are very often misguided. They have a lack of understanding of what their rights are. Their litigation strategies that they need to adopt, how to communicate, how to set up funding platforms and we’ve got all that expertise. That’s when we will grow, we will probably have an extra 60-person team just managing that, as we go into probably about 30 – 40 towns over the next few years. We can’t rush into it. We’ve got to get the model right, but we’ve got a good understanding of what we need to do and we’re starting to roll that out shortly.
Just listening to you it seems to me that all the laws are in place, but no one is really enforcing them.
So, it’s first a case of engaging and saying, ‘we want to help because I think we’re all on the same place.’ We don’t want corruption and bad administration. If their agenda is, ‘no, we don’t want you to interfere because we want to be corrupt and we want to waste money,’ well, then they’ll feel the wrath of outer-based civil society in the local level, taking them on. That’s really the strategy so, you’re quite right. We’ve got strong laws, and we’ve got good laws. We’ve just got to get the political will and the moral courage of the people in those communities to now start standing up for their rights and telling those corrupt mayors and councillors, ‘we cannot continue in this way.’ We need to make sure our rates and taxes are spent wisely and for the people. Not by a few people who manage to plunder and get rich.
There’s such a need in SA at the moment to attack corruption, but what about on a broader scale? You’re seeing people issuing videos saying, ‘we’ve got to stop these farm murders.’ It’s something that gets very deep into one’s heart. Is there much you can do about that?
Yes, we get inundated with so much and we’ve got to keep reminding ourselves of our mandate. Obviously, the plight of security, both rural and in urban, is just serious and it comes down to an inability to manage a division of this country being security in as an effective way as possible. So, we need proper policing. We need proper investigations. We need to get the security services to operate at the levels they need to so, holding the ministers and the DGs, and those departments to account for their conduct is what we need to do. I think it’s all around working with government. We’ve now opened up a parliamentary office, we’re engaging with politicians now, down in CT. A lot closer in parliament with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee and empowering them with a lot of the facts that they don’t know about and I guess, if we can adopt this approach of engaging more as well as challenging then things will turn.
When we get good leadership in, at the top and they’re willing to walk with society – I can tell that OUTA and others will play a big and meaningful role in tackling and undoing corruption more effectively because there will be consequences, as opposed to what’s happening now, where the NPA and the Hawks are just not doing their job. Sometimes it’s a result of lack of resources, sometimes incompetence, sometimes due to just a lack of will so, it’s a multifaceted journey but it’s working with society and working with government and politicians, and working with local government. As I say, that’s what we want to build this team to do. We can’t do it with a handful of people. Yes, that’s the journey.
Wayne, when I was in SA last week, I met with people across the spectrum. Some people getting on with life but without exception, there’s a very bleak mood. There’s a view amongst many that SA is heading the way of a failed state that one has seen so often in other African countries. What’s your take on that?
There’s no doubt that we can’t ignore the dire situation that we are in and we’re going in the wrong direction, and very fast. I think Malusi Gigaba and those in authority are realising the piggy bank is running dry. They cannot do it this way anymore. We are hoping that the senior leadership in the leading party is going to have to do something fast and certainly December is that window of opportunity. However, I think what we’ve got to be careful of is that we don’t give up. That we don’t have this ‘there’s nothing more we can do’ syndrome setting because this country has immense potential and wealth. One senses also, that business is now starting to wake up. Business is starting to see the need to participate with civil society to help, and assist us and fund us so that we can put these mechanisms in place to tackle these many issues. If we don’t and we give up, then let’s turn off the lights now but we can’t do that. It’s tough, Alec, it’s not nice but we’ve got to fight and work harder for this country because we’ve got an incredible nation, with incredible diversity and incredible wealth. We’ve just got to tap into it and get rid of those people who are in the way.
Do you think we’re through the worst yet?
No, I think it’s going to get a little bit tougher. I think the rating agencies are going to remind us of that. It’s going to hurt. I don’t think we’re unsalvageable well, not for a while, but we’ve got to put the brakes, and I think the brakes are being put on. If you look at what is happening, and the house of cards is starting to tumble around the individuals concerned. It takes 1, 2, or 3 meaningful changes, as we say, at the NPA level, in the Hawks level. You can see it already in many Parliamentary Portfolio Committees where in the past they would allow state owned entities and leaders to go unchallenged. They are now all being challenged. People are being fired. In the past, Matshela wouldn’t have been fired from Eskom, and Brian Molefe. They’ve all been kicked out. They’ve been fired, and they’re not being protected anymore, they can’t be.
Zuma is running around. He cannot focus on running this country and put out all the fires that are starting to ignite around him and I have no doubt that his strategy and mandate is unsustainable, and it will collapse. So, we believe it’s going to get a bit tougher, but as soon as we can start turning it around it’s going to grow massively and fast and that’s when I think a lot of people will come back to this country and help build it to where it should be.
There’s no doubt that that’s an intention of many of the people that I meet over here in England, where I live at the moment. There’s a great desire to get involved, to find a way of supporting. Sitting from where you are, how do they do that? How do the expats who’ve gone into other parts of the world, for different reasons, how do they make a contribution back home?
I think for one is to support civil society, like guys like ourselves and others who are doing this hard work. We’re only as good as the people we can employ, and we can only employ them when we’ve got funds. Our model is very clear, we don’t want to spend more than 50% of our income on salaries because we’ve got to build this litigation war-chest, which we have built with the other 30%, and we’ve got to run our operations with the final 20%, the rent and everything else. So, what we say to people out there, and to the expats that we’re here, we’re building our communication networks. People who subscribe to us on monthly donations do it, be it through debit orders, credit cards, or bank accounts. They get newsletters and feedback on what’s happening, how we’re doing it, and in that way, we can stay in touch. I think what we need to do is set up an expat page and be in touch with those individuals overseas, and talk about the pertinent stuff at their level and not at the microlevel that we’re seeing here. So, this is all the communication stuff that we’re going to work on. Look, we know that so many of them, Africa is in their blood – they want to be here, and we don’t blame them for not being here right now because it’s very hard to be here in many respects, but when that wheel turns we know that many will come home, and many will help build this country. And the people that are here, they are passionate and ready to get stuck in and fix this country.
Wayne, where do you get your energy from? We’re not young anymore but you don’t seem to, and certainly there’s lots of fight left in that dog.
Yes, look, I don’t know. It’s just I think the people around me, my family, my wife, her children – we’ve got a future, we’ve got kids to fight for. This team, this OUTA team is highly energised, and I guess leadership is about energy. It’s about enabling people to feel that energy and feed off that energy and if you don’t have high energy in these positions of leadership or in civil society, and the corporate world, then it rubs off and it’s harder to do your job. So, I don’t know where it comes from but it’s there and it’s continuously burning and it’s continuously growing. Yes, that’s all I can say.
One of the more satisfying parts of all of this is the way that you’ve been accepted right across society, not just outer, but you’re personally are now being invited into the corridors of power where, in the past, you wouldn’t have even thought of engaging with those people.
No, not at all and I think we’re starting to see invitations. We’re getting requests to speak to investment houses, big auditing houses – how do we see the way it should be done? What is our view on many things? We spoke to investment organisations the other day, they were quite impressed of how we picked up the modus operandi and the trends of State Capture. The more and more we engage, and tell our story out there the more I think we are being accepted. We’re growing in our middle-class acceptance, black and white, across all races throughout the country now. We were mainly Gauteng based – our support is now spreading so, there’s a realisation in acceptance that we are authentic. We are apolitical. We have no agendas. We are not funded by political parties or external entities. We are genuine about the job at hand and we demonstrate that in our social media program and communications, and it’s starting to pay off. It’s taken some time, but the last 2 years have been incredible, and we just see an amazing picture.
Wayne, just to close off with. Where do you see the timeline going from here? When are we going to be at a space where people will look back at SA and say, ‘it’s stabilised – I want to come back and do my bit?’
I think 2018 is going to be the year of reckoning, and change, and setting the scene for a future. 2019 elections are then going to be incredible but it all depends, first of all, what happens in December but either way, if the anti-Zuma crowd get in and start to shake the tree of change, which is what we believe should happen and must happen – that makes 2018 a great year and a platform for 2019 elections. From there on, I think we’re going to be on an uphill trajectory. It’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be one of the best countries to be in because the building and the rebuilding of a nation, and maximising its prosperity is going to take a lot of great energy. I think the investment that will happen in this will see us into higher [inaudible 0:23:41.5] growth for a couple of years as we realise our potential.
Wayne Duvenage, is the founder and the CEO of OUTA.