Athol Williams made to resign from UCT to complete Bain testimony for Zondo
The Capetonian born and raised in Mitchells Plain has grabbed the country's attention after his explosive testimony at the Zondo Commission Inquiry into State Capture.
This past week, Williams gave testimony to the state capture commission regarding evidence related to the South African Revenue Services (Sars).
He testified that US-based management consultancy firm Bain had not been transparent with the Nugent Commission when it investigated Sars. Willimas went further than arguing that Bain worked with former president Jacob Zuma in an effort to profit off his state capture project.
Bain asked to be allowed to release its affidavits at the Zondo Commission this week in an attempt to counter Williams' testimony.
Williams talks to Kieno Kammies about how he came to his conclusions.
He says he had to review over 500 documents in order to form a view about what had transpired.
But perhaps to go one small step back. I got access to a whole bunch of documents about Bain and their work in the SOEs when I was working with them to provide oversight on their investigation.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
He obtained these documents legally as part of his job, he says.
It was only after I left Bain that...I began to suspect that there was something very wrong going on and worried that my presence at Bain would be part of this cover-up and whitewashing, and that's why in the interests of our country I had to leave.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
He says many colleagues in that position would and do continue to remain in the company, receive very high salaries, and do nothing.
Not to boast, but the job I had at Bain if I had worked full-time at Bain, I would have had a guaranteed pay of R11 million a year. So that is what I walked away from after just three months because I could not be part of destroying our public institutions and being part of a cover-up of it.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
He started as an intern at Bain in 1995 in their Boston head office while still doing his MBA at MIT, he says, and so had had a long-term relationship with the company.
It was regularly voted as the best place to work and it was an amazing place. Truth be told they really gave me my career break.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Being a black engineer at the tail end of apartheid was not easy, he says, and Bain really gave him a fantastic opportunity in the United States.
He says over the years of his career he left and returned to Bain because of the mutual respect and admiration they had for one another.
So when Bain called me in 2018 and said we are in a bit of trouble can you come and helo us, I said, of course. These were my friends and my mentors. So further down the line to say the things I did about Bain at the Zondo Commission did not come easy.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
So what led to his difficult decision to blow the whistle?
He says it had become very apparent during the Nugent Commission that Bain had been involved in some of the damage at Sars.
Bain gave me the assurance - the global managing partner - that all they were up to was that they wanted to fix things in South Africa, that they sincerely wanted to do the right thing.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
They told Williams, that he knows Bain, is a corporate ethics specialist, and as a South African he would be the perfect person to assist them to fix the damage they had done in South Africa regarding the Nugent Commission, he explains.
But the damage and negative impact on South Africa went beyond Sars, he says, and impacted many other state-owned enterprises.
Bain was Jacob Zuma's consultant of choice. So when he was thinking of his lane he didn't call in anyone else, he called in Bain. So they were part of this broader masterminding of what happened in our country.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Why would a business consulting firm have a need to meet with a president of a country twenty times and behind closed doors?... And Bain called these marketing meetings to tell him what Bain could do...so Bain's explanation for these meetings falls completely hollow.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Williams says things began to go wrong when Bain began to withhold information from him.
In the absence of Bain providing me with their final investigation findings, how could I judge the truthfulness of what they had done?Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Bain's refusal to reveal their findings was a red flag for Williams and without the final investigation report, he says he was unable to judge the truthfulness of what had been done.
I began pressing Bain quite firmly about why they were withholding information from both the Nugent Commission and from me - and it became obvious to me that there was a lot more that had gone on and led me to believe.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Willimas names those in Bain who pushed back.
I like naming them because I don't like people hiding behind this name Bain.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Willimas alleges John Senior, Bains's South African head, Bain legal strategist Chris Kennedy, and Tiaan Moolman were the three who knew all the details.
Even when he resigned from Bain he says he made no accusations of state capture or corruption.
In November 2019, after he had left Bain, he had a meeting with the Zondo Commission.
They said, Athol, send us everything you have got.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Over the next few months, he printed out all the documents in his possession and studied them closely.
I looked at documents I had never really looked at before and thought let me understand, what could Bain be hiding? And that's when I strung these things together.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
My conclusion then was not that Bain is just hiding stuff, my conclusion was Bain was part of masterminding state capture.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Williams says he approached a number of law firms and social justice organisations and none would provide him with support.
He realised he was on his own.
I developed this affidavit sitting on my own and just writing.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
He approached UCT where he was working as an ethics lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business to ask for time off to focus on his affidavit.
He says he himself was now taking an ethical stand to fight corruption directly in South Africa and asked UCT to support him in this decision.
He says he needed support in two areas.
Firstly some public declaration of support because one of the hardest things when being a whistleblower is feelings of alienation. You feel alone. You feel abandoned. My business buddies turned their backs, every friend I had at Bain turned their backs on me.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
He says he thought his employer UCT would be proud of his stand.
I thought my employer would be proud of what I was doing, actually walking the talk of what we teach.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
He says ironically he was based at the Alan Grey Centre for Values-Based Leadership.
Instead, he says UCT said he could take s much time off as he needed but it would be unpaid and there would be no public statement of support.
He says he had no choice but to take the unpaid leave.
As his preparation for the Zondo Commission increased he went back to UCT to ask to return but with a reduced workload at a lower salary.
Professor Kurt April the head of the Alan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership said to me if that is the case Athol, then I think you should resign.Athol Williams, Former partner at Bain SA
Williams says he was flabbergasted and approached UCT's vice-chancellor who did nothing.
He was forced to resign in order to fulfill what he believed to be his duty to South Africa and the truth.
Listen to what Athol Williams has to say in his own words in the interview with Kieno Kammies below: