Bianca Goodson (South Africa)

Bianca

Goodson’s brave public disclosure exposed the corrupt activities of the Gupta family – the starting point for South Africa’s investigation into whole-of-state corruption

South Africa’s detailed investigation into high level public corruption started in 2016, when the independent Public Protector’s office published an influential report titled State of Capture and strongly recommended that a full scale inquiry follow.

At the start of 2016 Bianca Goodson had been headhunted to head the management division of a South African financial advisory firm, Trillian Capital.

By the time Goodson left her job, just three months later, she was well aware that her employer was right in the centre of the original state capture allegations. She also realised that what she knew about Trillian’s relations with the influential Gupta brothers and state owned enterprises in South Africa would be of enormous value to investigators.

Trillian was owned by Salim Essa, a close associate of the powerful Gupta family. The Guptas had extensive business interests in South Africa and used their relationship with the former president, Jacob Zuma, and his family to secure shady government contracts and exert influence on the workings of government.

Goodson realised that her company was winning highly lucrative government consulting work thanks to Essa’s connections but doing very little work to earn massively inflated fees. What she knew could corroborate what other whistleblowers had reported to the Public Protector and would deepen the public understanding of how deep the rot went.

Bianca did testify to the Public Protector, whose report appeared in October that year. In 2017, after the release of #GuptaLeaks, a large collection of emails to the South African media, Bianca stepped back into the fire and made an external disclosure by releasing a public statement, with supporting documents. Her statement detailed how Trillian would secure government work, pass it on to internationally recognised companies, and pocket half the proceeds.

Through this business model, the company raked in almost R600 million within a short space of time while barely lifting a finger. One particularly lucrative deal, that fortunately never came to fruition, would have seen Trillian earn the astronomical sum of R4.4 billion ($USD 255m) in advisory fees for a consulting contract McKinsey had with the state-owned energy company Eskom – effectively extracting resources from the South African state.

Goodson has described the escalating state capture story as “like Pandora’s box was just starting to open… Nobody really knew how bad it was.” Without sustained attention over a number of years, it is far from certain that South Africa’s citizens would ever have been able to discover the whole story. The Zondo Commission commenced its work following the resignation of President Zuma in February 2018. Bianca Goodson’s public disclosure is a key part of the story of how that became possible.

The Trillian transactions are currently the subject of various fraud, corruption and money laundering investigations and prosecutions in South Africa, to which Goodson’s evidence and disclosures continue to make an important contribution.

Blowing the whistle has taken a heavy toll on Goodson. She found a new job shortly after leaving Trillian, but had to move on after going public. In an interview in 2021, she said becoming a whistleblower had led to the end of her marriage and made her unemployable, forcing her to rely on her elderly parents to survive.

Despite the costs of her actions, Goodson told the Daily Maverick in 2017 that she did not regret going public. If anything, she said, she should have come forward earlier.

“Doing the right thing is never, ever easy. If you find yourself in a situation such as mine, it’s probably because you have the strength to deal with it.”

Congratulations to Bianca Goodson, winner of the 2022 Blueprint for Free Speech Special Recognition Award.

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