Off the Record – My Amazing MTN Story – Preamble

In which our intrepid heroine introduces you to her story, and begs your indulgence to unfold a long tale, which – if everything works out – will cause the stars to start in their tracks, and your knotted and combined locks to stand on end like the fretful porpoise, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it.

Democratic South Africa really started out with so much promise. We had Nelson Mandela, a fabulous economy, a well-run civil service, Nelson Mandela, a rainbow nation, the best schools, hospitals and roads in the world, Nelson Mandela, kick-ass sports teams and reasonable TV. And Nelson Mandela.

But now, 26 years later, Mandela has passed on. The country is soggy with mismanagement and corruption, our government is a criminal enterprise, the civil service isn’t and doesn’t, the roads are held together with potholes, only the rats get good health care at public hospitals, everyone is at each other’s throats, we lose every game we play, and our TV now is just a medium because anything well done is rare.

With billions being stolen and a national culture of lies, damn lies, and statistics; with daily revelations in the national press about extraordinary levels of theft and corruption … Who would care about a single lone little crusader who took on smallanyana corruption, believed in truth and justice and happy endings – and paid a heavy price?

Well, with any luck – you, dear reader.

In this blog I will relate, hopefully in entertaining detail, how I took on the municipality of Durban (the city where I live), and MTN (an international mobile telecomms service provider), and – as a result of what some would call an ill-advised campaign against powerful government and corporate interests – became, without any previous preparation, equipment or training, the most miserable journalist in Africa.

I will tell you about my journey down the rabbit hole of citizen activism and the law, the parallel universe of public service, how I set out like Don Quixote to fix the wrong-doing, and how both the windmills and the donkey conspired to teach me a lesson. It might be a cautionary tale about how difficult it is for the ordinary oke to do anything about corruption, and how sometimes the best one can hope to be is the mosquito in the night.

The only good outcome of this adventure was that I was invited to join a group of whistleblowers, who have all experienced the sheer exhaustion, disbelief, frustration and despair that descends on anyone who wishes, in either a grand fashion or in their own tiny little way, to highlight, expose and try to combat corruption in this country of ours.

Next week, we will investigate this tale with a cast of thousands.

To start with, though, only three are important:

1. Me: A senior journalist, relatively long in the tooth. I spend half my time working, half my time looking for trouble, and the other three-quarters helping out at a charity that looks after stray cats.

2. The city of Durban, otherwise known as Ethekwini Municipality. So corrupt that it has an entire university thesis all to itself.

3. MTN – Mobile Telephony Network. A South African-owned multinational telecomms company that has an interesting business model: it is in regulatory trouble in every single country in which it operates. A report by PwC found “alarming evidence of corruption” at MTN. The company is currently being sued by US servicemen for (allegedly) co-operating with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and regularly puts out press releases in which it says that, yes, yes, we know, we will now clean up our act and obey the law. Promise.


There will be a new episode of my exciting adventures every week. If you would like it sent directly to your inbox, please click here. You can send a blank e-mail to sign up to the mailing list.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this series of articles are purely those of the writer, they are not endorsed by Safrea or any of its members.

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6 Responses

  1. Irresistible, Niki. And so entertainingly written; let the revelations begin! I will forward to all and sundry. Brava!

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