Patricia Mashale (South Africa)

Patricia Mashale (South Africa)

South Africa’s Police Service failed to respect confidentiality and exposed whistleblower Mashale and her family to a terrifying campaign of retaliation

Patricia Mashale was a senior administrative clerk working in the police firearms department in the Free State province of South Africa.

In 2018 she made a protected disclosure to her commanding officer that illegal firearms destined for destruction were being sold by police officials to criminal syndicates.

Nothing came of her complaint, so she reported it to the former national police commissioner, General Khehla Sitole. In 2020 Sitole referred the case to the head of the priority crimes division in the Free State, who appointed a task team to investigate .

Soon afterwards Mashale found out that her identity as whistleblower had been compromised. The investigation was immediately halted. According to Mashale, it has never been revived.

In January 2021, Mashale blew the whistle again. This time she made a protected disclosure to Sitole of alleged corruption and abuse of power by senior police officials in the Free State. The information she sent to Sitole included allegations of irregular appointments and promotions and of the misuse of state resources.

Rather than being acted on, Mashale’s expectation of confidentiality was breached and her complaint found its way back to the very same provincial managers she had blown the whistle on. The officers Mashale had implicated then embarked on a terrifying campaign of retaliation against her.

One of the police generals she had implicated opened a harassment case against Mashale and obtained a protection order. Police officials investigating the harassment case then seized Mashale’s phone while she was at work, using what she says was a fake warrant. Patricia Mashale’s phone is still in the possession of the South African Police Service.

As if that wasn’t enough, Patricia Mashale found herself under physical surveillance by police officers in unmarked cars. The car Mashale uses to collect her younger son from boarding school was followed all the way back to her house in November 2021. Mashale’s digital communications also appear to be under surveillance; her bank has warned her about the disclosure of her personal data.

In January 2022 Mashale was charged with misconduct for bringing the police in disrepute after publicly calling for the removal of the Free State police management. After 15 years of service, Mashale was dismissed after she refused to attend a misconduct hearing chaired by one of the police officials she had implicated in her initial complaint.

Shortly afterwards one of her former police colleagues warned her there were plans to have her arrested and tossed in jail without being registered on the prison system, and killed.

Now Patricia Mashale lives in hiding in different locations, fearing for her life. A police threat assessment confirmed her life was at risk.

She says in June 2022 shots were fired at her brother in an attempt to kill him after he refused to disclose her whereabouts to members of the Free State police management.

According to an SABC interview aired in September 2022, living in hiding has taken its toll on Mashale’s family relationships. She has a 9-year-old son who she can only see occasionally.

Shortly after the interview was aired, Mashale received information that the police general with the protection order against her had given an instruction that she should be arrested.

Days later a large contingent of police arrived at her house and harassed her family members. This happened even though she had a prior arrangement with the investigating officer to meet him with her lawyer in his office to be charged, which was subsequently done.

Threats to her life continue. Most recently, in November 2022, her son-in-law was driving her to a safe house when she noticed they were being tailed by a black Ford Ranger pick-up truck without vehicle registration plates. She was convinced the occupants were assassins who had been sent to kill her. A high-speed car chase ensued. Mashale’s son-in-law eventually shook off their pursuers in a warren of township streets.

She regards these actions as part of an ongoing pattern of retaliation for her disclosures.

Congratulations to Patricia Mashale, winner of the 2022 Blueprint for Free Speech Special Recognition Award.

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