The Price of Whistleblowing in South Africa

By all accounts, Jimmy Mohlala was that rarest of creatures, an honest man.

As Speaker of the Mbombela local municipality, and a former executive within the South African Football Association and member of the World Cup organizing committee, he built a reputation as someone who was outside the influence of the rampant political corruption which is the norm in most of South Africa and the ruling ANC, of which he was a member.

Unfortunately, standing up for the little guy and crusading for the truth only goes so far when you run up against the combined power of big money and national politics when they're on an all-out greed run.

Like, for example, the 2010 World Cup.

Mbombela, a "local municipality", is part of the Ehlanzeni District Municipality, which is in the Mpumalanga (formerly Eastern Transvaal) Province of SA, which is the location of Nelspruit Stadium, one of the new brownfield mega-dollars football venues that South Africa is building.

In the overall scheme of things, Jimmy Mohlala was a pretty small cog in the project, and he would have stayed in his role as an anonymous local functionary as the whole World Cup extravaganza swept over the region like a tidal wave except for one small thing:

That pesky honesty thing.

You see, in the mad rush to get these stadiums built in time for Sepp Blatter and Chuck Blazer and their pals to entertain the world's biggest celebrities in the remarkably venal "VVIP" suites which will be located a few hundred yards from grinding poverty, disease and human misery which they are trying hard to sweep under the rug, the developers - and their partners in graft, the ANC - have cut a lot of corners.

Like, for example, paying for the land.

Under South Africa's "Land Redistribution Act", large tracts were given (or given back) to tribes and clans who could show historical ownership rights.

The site for the Nelspruit Stadium was given to a clan who in turn hired the Matsafeni Trust to manage it.

But when that site was chosen for the stadium, a trust administrator sold 6000 acres of land he didn't own to the municipality for one Rand, or about eleven cents US. It was later revealed that the administrator is a business partner with the Mayor and another local politician. Imagine that.

Jimmy Mohlala was working to expose the swindle.

So last Saturday afternoon, under a flame tree on the quiet, leafy street where Jimmy Mohlala lived with his family, three masked men waited in a car for two or three hours until Jimmy came out of his house to help his 19 year old son move some cars into the garage.

Whereupon two of the men emerged from the car and began shooting. His son saw the men approaching and screamed "Daddy, just run away", but Mohlala was already wounded. He made it inside his house and got to the stairs, apparently attempting to get the gun he kept by his bedside.

The masked men entered the house, shot him several more timess and then fled.

They took nothing. Except Jimmy Mohlala's life. The local police released a statement saying that there is "no apparent motive" for the slaying.

People these days are quite proud of themselves when they spout off their political or social point of view, telling everyone how they "spoke truth to power". Usually it's simply the vanity of a dilettante, meaningless adolescent mewling.

People like this are blissfully unaware that in some places, speaking truth to power means putting your life on the line.

Jimmy Mohlala spoke truth to power. And Jimmy Mohlala is dead because of it.

Sepp Blatter has announced, through a FIFA mouthpiece, that "this is an isolated incident". Meanwhile, the stadium continues to rise.

The full-bore racing locomotive that is the natural result of the combination of corruption, greed and arrogance amongst developers, politicians and world football's poohbahs is barreling down the tracks.

Jimmy Mohlala tried to get in the way. It didn't even slow down.