Wendy Addison was a whistle blower—but not just any whistle blower. Wendy Addison was a whistle blower in 2000 South Africa. And in 2000 South Africa, there just wasn’t a lot of protection for whistle blowers. Addison was in danger, and the government couldn’t—or wouldn’t—help her.
In 2000, Addison was the treasurer for one of the biggest, most powerful, and most popular firms in South Africa. Right from the beginning of her work there, years before, Addison recognized that the two heads of the company, didn’t always play by the rules. But it was when the company acquired a second company Addison discerned enormous conflicts of interest for her bosses.
Going to the company’s outside auditors wasn’t an option, because one of the senior partners of the auditing company was also on the executive team of the company they were charged to audit. So Addison made an anonymous phone call to the nation’s Revenue Services and then left them a report.
Things went downhill fast—Addison’s anonymity disappeared. Within weeks, her company was being liquidated. Addison was subpoenaed to testify, and shortly after that started receiving death threats. Having no protection, Addison took her 12-year-old son and left South Africa for England. She initially got a job with a British airline but when the owner found out she was the notorious South African whistle blower, he fired her.
Addison was out of options: no company in England would hire her. Every time Addison approached a company for work, her past squelched the deal. She and her son actually walked the streets, begging for food. She collected welfare for several years, returned to South Africa in 2005, could not receive compensation for her work, could not even get legal representation, and a few months later went back to England, this time for good.
Eventually, her old bosses were convicted of fraud, sentenced to seven years each in prison, but released after serving 19 months.
Addison finally managed to get the perfect job—she’s a member of the Corruption Research Group at SurreyUniversity. She’s been researching bribery and corruption and does speaking engagements around the world. And she started an organization, SpeakOut SpeakUp, which educates people on whistle blowing.
Given her experiences, Addison knows how important it is to educate people about whistle blowing, especially in her home country: “It’s important that the message to South Africans is . . . to find the moral courage to do what’s right, to avoid these ongoing corruption and fraud issues that are crippling the democracy of South Africa.” And she’s optimistic about the future: “I think the world . . . is changing, there’s a lot more awareness around corruption and bribery, and I think we’re in a different place.”
Keep track of Addison’s work at www.speakout-speakup.org.
Age when commended: adult (20-64)
Year commended: 2014
Occupation: Business person
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