Chuck Stephens: Sleeping with a loaded gun…

Activist and author Chuck Stephens of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership sleeps with a loaded gun as he endures years of vengeful persecution since he blew the whistle on corruption in 2011. In this interview with BizNews, he describes what happened after he reported “nefarious activity” in the Community Work Programme in Mpumalanga. “I’m a target. And I think of Babita Deokaran (The Department of Health whistleblower who was murdered). And I see what happened to (Alexei) Navalny (the opposition politician murdered) in Russia…Eventually, if people hate you enough and they’ve got power, they’re going to sequester you and they’re going to take you out. And that’s what I’m facing now.”

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:28 – The corruption he blew the whistle on
  • 05:06 – The protection order
  • 09:07 – The ruling
  • 11:11 – Being arrested
  • 16:17 – Accused of harassment
  • 17:13 – A former tenant
  • 24:37 – Fearing for his life
  • 26:43 – Conclusion

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Highlights from the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Activist and author Chuck Stephens of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership sleeps with a loaded gun as he endures years of vengeful persecution since he blew the whistle on corruption in 2011.

In this interview with BizNews, he describes what happened after he reported “nefarious activity” in the Community Work Programme in Mpumalanga.

“I do fear for my life. I sleep with a loaded gun beside my bed. And one night in, I think it was 2019 if I remember correctly, or 2020, there was a break in my home and they got through windows and got through locked doors in the inside and were coming down the hall towards my bedroom. But I fortunately woke up, stepped into the hall and shot the guy right in the face. It’s an air gun, didn’t kill him, but must have hurt pretty bad because they just took off. 

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“…well, it’s South Africa…but this isn’t the ad hoc hit-and-run type crime. I’m a target. Okay. And I think of Babita Deokaran (The Department of Health whistleblower who was murdered). And I see what happened to (Alexei) Navalny (the opposition politician murdered) in Russia…

“Eventually, if people hate you enough and they’ve got power, they’re going to sequester you and they’re going to take you out. And that’s what I’m facing now.”

Stephens relates how – at the age of 70 – he caught COVID after being arrested and left in an overcrowded cell for three nights.

“That same weekend that I was in the lock-up, COVID was moved from level three up to to level four. So it was right in the middle of the COVID pandemic. And when I went into the lock-up, there were 13 other men already in this one-room cell. We had to sleep together, we had to eat together, we had to shower together, you know, and so on for the three days that I was held. Three of them were exhibiting COVID symptoms and being treated by the government clinic, which is right across the street from the police station.

“We were 17 of us by the end of the weekend because a few more people were brought in after me. I caught COVID. I can verify that with a laboratory report, not a quick test, a real lab report. We have sued the Minister of Police for unlawful arrest, number one, and number two, for attempted murder.”

After that arrest, Stephens had to post bail, and appear in court five times before the State Prosecutor withdrew the charges two months later.  

According to Stephens, an official in the Premier’s Office has misled the police and the court to obtain a Protection Order against him, and has used it to try and solve civil disputes or leverage criminal cases.

He adds that this official is also a religious leader?  “His day job is in government but on weekends he is a man of the cloth.  History is repeating itself.  The ‘respectable’ religious leaders are synergizing with the political rulers to try to side-line an iconoclast.  A whistle-blower.  A foreigner.  A change agent.  A missionary,” he writes in a letter to BizNews.

“Whistleblowing is seen as a vice. It’s seen you’re a snitch, you know, you’re despised. And I understand during the Struggle why this was because it was not a truly democratic regime back then, you know. But now in the era of democracy, you know, we should champion whistleblowing. We want people to come forward when there’s crime to be reported. Whistleblowing is good citizenship in a democracy. And unfortunately, that’s not the way people have seen it here,” he says in the interview.

He recalls how the first punishment for him for speaking out was being sidelined from his role in the Provincial Implementing Agency of the CWP, and having his NGO starved of resources.

“We were then pushed out further and further and further. You know, sort of like (Russian revolutionary Leon) Trotsky was pushed further and further and further away by (Russian leader Vladimir) Lenin…until he ended up in the jail in Mexico and they came and they shot him in the jail in Mexico. You know, but that’s the way I feel…”

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