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One of South Africa’s bravest whistleblowers, Cynthia Stimpel, speaks to BizNews about the huge personal sacrifices being made by the country’s whistleblowers; the terrible losses some have suffered – and the extreme vilification that is used to discredit those who dare speak truth to power. She is now dedicating herself to help other whistleblowers through her work at The Whistleblower House that has supported at least 160 whistleblowers over the past year. She also gives important advice on blowing the whistle in the safest possible way. – Chris Steyn
One of South Africa’s bravest whistleblowers, Cynthia Stimpel, has spoken to BizNews about the extreme personal sacrifices being made by the country’s whistleblowers, the terrible losses some have suffered – and the extreme vilification that is used to discredit those who dare speak truth to power.
Ms Stimpel – who blew the whistle at South African Airways (SAA) – is now dedicating herself to help other whistle-blowers through her work at The Whistleblower House.
This NPO has supported at least 160 whistle-blowers over the past year. It facilitates access to legal services, health services, financial assistance, risk management services, job opportunities, as well as advice regarding the media. It also offers coaching sessions and security by getting whistle-blowers into a safe environment.
Speaking about the big challenges being faced by whistle-blowers, Ms Stimpel says: “So we all face the loss of our jobs. And the loss of your job has the impact then on your career and your reputation – and it’s very, very difficult to find future work.
“So I have a Master’s and I always thought that I’ll definitely find a job. I’ve got an MBA, I’ve got banking experience, I’ve got Treasury experience, I’ve got Risk experience, I’ll definitely find a job. And it was shocking for me that my CVs were not even replied to with a negative, it was just ignored. Many whistleblowers are still writing to me and saying, ‘I’m sending out my CV again and again and no response’.
“Besides that, they are victimised and retaliated against. They are so vilified that their name and their reputation in the media is made out to be this bad person.”
One of the strategies used against whistle-blowers is to isolate them. “And with that isolation whistleblowers then feel extremely alone, which in itself is also victimisation.
“Then once the company starts laying their charges, you are on the back foot because you have to defend those charges. And if they’re not true, it’s harder for you to defend because the organisations all have deep pockets; so they have access to funds and the best legal firms, whereas the whistleblower has no funding and no access to legal firms to defend their position.
Many have walked away and not defended their position because they didn’t have funds. Others have tried to fight, using their own personal funds – and now they are drained…they’re unable to continue further.”
Ms Stimpel says the stress can be so severe that whistle-blowers suffer physical illnesses, mental illnesses, psychological illnesses, divorce, and even loss of custody of their children. “..some commit suicide because the stress is so much that they feel, had I not disclosed this, my family would not be in this position. So it’s best I get rid of myself. And then there are those who have been assassinated.”
Ms Stimpel has this advice for those who are contemplating becoming whistle-blowers: “I know that many whistleblowers have stated that had they known better – and after what they suffered – they wouldn’t blow the whistle. But my recommendation to all whistleblowers out there is please do blow the whistle.
“And the reason for that is not to get you into trouble. The reason is that it is the right thing to do…that you in your small way, you stop the corruption from happening or exacerbating. So, that I feel is the role of every citizen in our country or citizen of the world.
“But do it safely, blow it anonymously. Don’t get your name out there that you can get the public against you or your organisation against you. Don’t do it where your name is vilified and that you lose your job and your livelihood. So try and find out before you do anything, what is the best way to blow the whistle and how can I do it safely and how can I keep my name anonymous?
“And it’s where we will help you as Whistleblower House. We will put you in touch with legal organisations who can do it and make sure that you are protected, that the Protected Disclosures Act is fully enacted and enforced and that your name does not get out there in the public space and that you do not lose your job.”
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