Athol Williams, lecturer and poet, has alleged that the University of Cape Town have been trying to silence him, a charge the university denies.
Williams said the UCT ombudsman offered him “hush money” to stop raising concerns about the university’s dealings with companies implicated in allegations of state capture. He was a senior lecturer specialising in corporate responsibility and ethical leadership at UCT’s graduate school of business until last year.
In March this year, Williams gave testimony to the state capture commission regarding evidence related to the South African Revenue Services (Sars). He said the US-based management consultancy firm Bain had not been transparent with the Nugent Commission when it investigated Sars. He also said that Bain worked with former president Jacob Zuma in an effort to profit off his state capture project. Williams had obtained the documents from the company where he had worked as a former partner.
During his time preparing for the commission, Williams told CapeTalk he had expected to get support from the university. Instead, Williams said the university said he could take as much time off as he needed but he would not be paid during that time. The university also indicated that it would not make a public statement of support for Williams. He resigned from his position at UCT in August 2020 to concentrate on the Zondo commission hearings.
In April 2021, Williams said the UCT ombudsman offered him a cash payment which he refused. Williams told IOL that the money was supposedly a symbolic payment as compensation for lost income because “UCT only offered me unpaid leave to work on my testimony for the Zondo Commission. But the moment money enters such situations, there is always the risk that it comes with strings”.
In January 2020, UCT announced the university had recruited the services of McKinsey for four weeks. McKinsey is one of many companies that have been implicated in the state capture project. Williams objected to the appointment. He said he felt the decision undermined the ethical position he had taken against corporate corruption.
Now Williams has said the university is trying to pay him off to stop him from raising these concerns.
UCT said “Mr Williams’ continued slandering of UCT is unfair and unjust. There is absolutely no factual basis for Mr Williams’ insinuation that his resignation, or UCT’s acceptance of it, was somehow connected to his whistleblowing activity.”
UCT said they respect his bravery in being a whistleblower. However, the university said it is regrettable that Williams has again raised the very serious allegations against UCT in public statements.
According to UCT, they totally reject these distortions of fact and deny these claims.
“The acting Ombud’s engagement with Mr Williams was one such a senior person trying to resolve his issues. Unfortunately, Mr Williams chose to make absolutely distorted and false claims of “being offered hush money” in public after the engagement,” said UCT.