A recent report by the office of the Public Protector has confirmed what has been known for almost a year, for security assessments undertaken by State agencies in December 2017 found that the lives of anti-corruption fighters Thabiso Zulu and Les Stuta are in grave danger. The report censures Minister of Police Bheki Cele, accusing him of gross negligence and, among other things, orders both him and the national commissioner of police to immediately provide the two men with the ‘requisite security at state expense’. The response by the Minister has been to refuse the men protection because he has decided to take the matter on judicial review. The failure of the Minister to provide security for two men who have risked their own safety and that of their families, even if he is proceeding with a review, is extraordinary and inexplicable. He is the minister responsible for ensuring that the police fulfil their constitutional obligations to prevent crime. However, his role cannot be distanced from that of the policies of the ANC government of which he is part, and the silence of his colleagues suggests that there is tacit approval for his course of action. Among his colleagues in this province are those in influential positions who know well, from their own personal experience, what it is like to live in constant danger of attack. and among those of them who bear moral responsibility for the plight of these two men is the Premier, Willies Mchunu. It is he who set up the Moerane Commission of Inquiry, yet he has failed to take any action to ensure the protection of those who answered his call to come forward with evidence.
Les Stuta and Thabiso Zulu drew media attention to themselves by speaking out at the funeral of their close friend and political ally Councillor Sindiso Magaqa in September 2017, when they linked the assassination attempt which had led to his death to his enquiries into apparent gross corruption to the tune of around R37 million allocated for the refurbishment of the uMzimkhulu Memorial hall. This matter became the subject of an investigation by the office of the Public Protector. Zulu then went on to give evidence which received considerable media attention, including about the same matter, to the Moerane Commission; he has also, according to media reports, been involved in other corruption-busting activities, including in Pietermaritzburg Howick and Harry Gwala municipalities. By November 2017 it had become clear that both men were under threat, and the Moerane Commission and police management were apprised of the situation and requested to take remedial action. The matter has dragged on since then, despite the security assessment having been completed months ago. They have both reported sinister incidents which have led to them taking constant evasive action – e.g. moving from one place to another – and relying on the assistance of friends to ensure some sort of protection such as safe accommodation. In May 2018 the international organisation FrontLine Defenders, which is dedicated to assisting human rights defenders, sent out an Urgent Appeal drawing attention to the threats to Thabiso Zulu after they had intensified but it elicited no response or remedial action from government.
Endemic, gross corruption is stealing money which is desperately needed to provide services to the poor, whose situation continues to deteriorate as the cost of living climbs. It is also destroying our nascent democracy, especially when people dare not speak out to expose it because they risk being killed. Stuta and Zulu are exceptions to this rule, and, if the government was serious about wanting to stamp out corruption, they should be held up as heroes in this fight, starting with affording them the protection they urgently need.
The refusal to grant them this protection suggests that government leaders have no wish to expose corruption. They themselves are protected, at obscene costs to the taxpayers, by phalanxes of bodyguards which they may not even need, given that this type of protection is deemed a status symbol (and rumours are that in some cases, men are bodyguards by day and hitmen by night). What is truly extraordinary is that provincial leadership figures, including the Premier Willies Mchunu, Deputy ANC Provincial Chairperson Mike Mabuyakhulu, and Chairperson of the Provincial Portfolio Committee, Bheki Ntuli, seem to have conveniently forgotten what it was like to live under the type of threat that Les Stuta and Thabiso Zulu are now facing. As trade unionists in the 1990s they and their families were either under threat, or, in the case of Ntuli, suffered attacks and killings of close family members. International actions spearheaded by Amnesty International were undertaken for them – but now they are comfortably ensconced in government international opinion, and even the very real dangers faced by their own political colleagues, appears of no consequence. They and their other colleagues are surely aware of the situation in which Stuta and Zulu find themselves, as it is receiving wide media coverage. It is time for them, and all those in senior positions in the party and in government, to bring pressure to bear on the Minister of Police to do the right thing and ensure protection for Les Stuta and Thabiso Zulu as, ordered by the Public Protector – for in the event of any harm befalling them the guilt for failing to act will be collective.