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In eight hours, one woman singlehandedly gave the public an inside perspective to the political and bureaucratic shenanigans happening in Eskom. Suzanne Daniels, who has worked herself up from senior management positions to company secretary, eventually becoming the head of legal and compliance – a pivotal department in the tender process, was branded a whistleblower. According to her, being an informant would end her career in parastatals and corporate South Africa. However, her new chapter sees her venturing into entrepreneurship and establishing a life coaching company for women. While her boldness has been applauded by some, the question of who the woman behind the brave testimony is, undoubtedly comes to mind – Bernice Maune.
By Bernice Maune
Her unwavering testimony on state capture makes Daniels something of a heroine, mainly because she has been fearless in speaking out about corruption and how the Guptas used Eskom executives to do their bidding. The cost of her bravery has been high, however, as Daniels admitted that since being branded a whistleblower, her role at Eskom has been a blight on her career.
Before leaving Eskom in 2018, Daniels had begun to give interviews on the Guptas and the rampant looting at Eskom. Her revelations on the state utility would contribute to disciplinary charges against her. In mid-2018, Daniels was fired from the parastatal after she failed to convince the chairperson of the disciplinary hearing, senior advocate Nazeer Cassim, that her actions of revealing corruption were noble. Daniels was also charged with authorising transactions totalling R800,000 to former Eskom chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane and sharing documents from an email address that belonged to Gupta frontman Salim Essa.
At the time, Daniels took Cassim’s findings on review and penned a response to the Eskom board.
Though Daniels has rebuilt her career since leaving Eskom, it is worthwhile to look at her history to get a better understanding of who the woman behind the testimony is.
Prior to joining Eskom in 2006, Daniels had held various positions in the legal sector starting off as an attorney then joining the Thabo Mbeki Development Trust as CEO in 2000. Shortly thereafter she took up a post as a senior consultant at PMA Consultants. Her stint in the private sector would end in 2006 when she left the consultancy agency and became Pikitup Johannesburg’s corporate strategy advisor.
She first joined Eskom as the chief legal advisor for primary energy. She then became the senior manager of the technology group executive and later the chairman of the board of directors. In 2015 she was promoted to company secretary and would then become the acting head of legal and compliance, becoming permanent in that role in July 2018.
Daniels holds a BA in public administration, an LLB and a postgraduate diploma in law from the University of Cape Town. She also attended a senior management programme at the Henley Business school in 2013.
Shunned for whistleblowing
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Daniels said she had been shunned after revealing to parliament the underhanded machinations which had occurred.
“My own organisation shunned me in the worst way possible. I became the scapegoat and an easy target, while those who were actually responsible left without much fanfare. I was warned by the then CEO that the organisation would make my life hell and it really did become hellbent on my destruction. For a while, it succeeded.
“Even with the compelling evidence I presented, and despite me having been in the boardroom at the time of certain actions, every effort was made to discredit me. The perpetrators remained free and, in some cases, their utterances were used as authority for accusations against me. I was left broken, unable to reconcile my actions and beliefs with the responses I received from powers that be – along with those of the legal fraternity from which I’d come.
“A frenzy of forensic reports followed in the months after my testimony in Parliament, which, when read carefully, actually supported what I’d said. However, these reports were missing key elements as the agenda was not to support but break down my character and self-esteem. My testimony revealed how complex and nuanced the subterfuge actually was, yet the thirst for one-liner scoops remained high, wrote Daniels.
Reaction to Zondo testimony
While Daniels has been hailed for being forthcoming with details of what occurred while she was at the helm of the legal department at Eskom, there have been mixed sentiments about her testimony at the state capture commission. Judge Ray Zondo also enquired why she had continued to take Salim Essa’s calls and meet him, in one instance this happened on a weekend.
Suzanne Daniels was fired under the Eskom Board appointed by Pres @CyrilRamaphosa. Adv Nazeer Cassim found she had colluded with other execs to channel info to Gupta proxies. This against establishment media's portrayal of her as a whistleblower.
— Pinky Khoabane (@pinkykhoabane) September 15, 2020
We must not be too critical of Suzanne Daniels. Whistle-blowers don't need to come with clean hands. Such a standard only limits whistle-blowers coming out in future. https://t.co/iphczOThJn
— George Makubalo (@GeorgeMakubalo) September 15, 2020
The people disputing that Suzanne Daniels was offered a bribe of R800m seem not to understand her then position at Eskom as a former "head of legal and compliance" , this is person who can overlook complaince when adjudicating tenders🙆🏽♂️🙆🏽♂️🤷🏽♂️
— Mr Mbeki Sir (@LooyandaMbeki) September 16, 2020
At the beginning of 2020, Daniels started her own companies – a life coaching business for women and a Covid medical supplies company.
“We help women break through the overwhelm, challenges and fears in transitioning to entrepreneurship and help them step out in confidence as successful women who mean business,” she wrote on LinkedIn of her life coaching venture.
Of her medical supplies business, Daniels stated that it was a procurement company, dealing in wholesale purchasing for generic and branded products and exporting globally.
In her column for Daily Maverick, Daniels gave more insight into her new reality.
“Few whistle-blowers recover from their experience and must live in a world very different from the one they knew before they spoke up. Unemployment, being shunned in friendship and collegiate circles, feeling isolated … the reality of whistle-blowing is grim… I believe the truth is paramount and will ultimately set you free. But freedom for me came at a high price.”
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