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Picture: 123RF/OLEG DUDKO
Picture: 123RF/OLEG DUDKO

More and more commissions of inquiry are looking into allegations of corruption in SA — and the law needs to take its course so those who are found guilty are held to account for what they have done.

But what happens to those of us who are cleared of wrongdoing? At first I thought I was one of the lucky ones. It took just six months for a commission of inquiry with full legal authority to clear my name and declare that all allegations made against me were unfounded. This was accompanied by a full lifestyle audit by a reputable audit firm which found no impropriety.

But I soon found that I couldn’t simply move on with my life, and my career became hamstrung by unfounded allegations that are continuously rehashed in the media to this day. Anyone can simply dredge up unfounded allegations in newspapers and social media, without verifying the outcomes of these legal processes. Often there is no justification for why the writer needs to repeat these allegations, or even an explanation that they were false.

That’s what happened recently when the story was published about the suspension of the COO of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), SA’s largest state-owned asset manager which oversees an estimated R2.3-trillion in state employees’ pension funds (“PIC refuses to give details on Vuyani Hako’s suspension”, June 2).

Imagine my shock when — despite the fact that three years had lapsed since my own PIC-related incident, I no longer serve on the board of that organisation and there is no link between the issues — my name again appeared at the end of the story.

It could be argued that it was simply to prove that the PIC has been dogged by controversy over the past couple of years. The question has to be asked though: why, when someone has been cleared of all allegations, does the stigma of the untruths that were circulated remain, and seem to take on a life of their own regardless of the facts? 

I was a member of the PIC board that resigned en masse in February 2019 after allegations of impropriety surrounding a number of large transactions emerged. One was the R6.2bn Karan Beef deal, which was presented for approval to a committee I chaired.

There were a number of powerful and politically connected individuals who wanted to be in on that deal, but the committee was determined not to allow that to happen. The integrity of the deal had to be protected. The facts that emerged during the  Mpati commission spoke for themselves.

I was appointed to lead an investigation into alleged misconduct on the part of two members of the board. Soon thereafter the “James Noko” allegations emerged, made by an anonymous person who has, to this day, never been identified.

Sadly, I will never know why these allegations were made in the first place. Fortunately, the judicial inquiry chaired by former judge Lex Mpati, and the extensive lifestyle audit that followed, cleared me of any wrongdoing.  

The bottom line is that the allegations were found to be fake and vindictive. There is a difference between whistle-blowing and making false allegations. Allegations conjured from thin air that cannot be substantiated should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

Looking back, it seems that making false allegations about anyone has become a powerful weapon. That’s why this is not just about me. I was lucky enough to have a commission of inquiry clear my name. Others, despite being innocent of all allegations made against them, have not benefited from a legal or judicial process. That’s why today many highly qualified and ethical leaders are sitting at home with their careers in tatters.

We all know thorough checks are carried out before executive or nonexecutive director appointments are made. If your name is associated with any wrongdoing in the print or social media — whether true or false — you are automatically excluded. People doing the checks believe what they see and don’t always verify the facts. The result is that good people are punished for things they did not do. Any proof, or lack thereof, is simply discounted.

That leaves people like me having to do everything they can to clear their names. We have to let SA and the world know that we were never guilty of any wrongdoing from the start.

Dudu Hlatshwayo, Founder and CEO, Change EQ and partner, Fluence Capital. Chairperson, CNG Holdings as well as the Airports Company SA audit & risk committee and Africa Mining & Exploration Finance Corporation remuneration committee.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Send us an email with your comments to letters@businesslive.co.za. Letters of more than 300 words will be edited for length. Anonymous correspondence will not be published. Writers should include a daytime telephone number.​

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