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By Hein Kaiser


Outa’s Wayne Duvenage: A beacon of civil activism in South Africa

The e-tolls saga drove Duvenage to leave his corporate CEO post to become an activist.

Some people opt for politics as a career to make a difference. Others, like the chief executive of Outa (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse), Wayne Duvenage, chose civil activism.

It’s a platform where, unlike party politics, it never trips up looking over the shoulder of government. Malfeasance can be exposed with a single motive: justice.

The ex-CEO

Becoming a civil activist is a calling.

It was the disastrous e-tolls that changed Duvenage’s life as chief executive of car rental company Avis, to protecting South African business and society from the daily sucker punches that corruption dishes out.

“We cannot keep up with the sheer volume of cases presented to us every day,” says Duvenage.

“There is just so much, billions and billions of rands. It has become a challenge to prioritise what we investigate and expose first.”

READ: ‘There’s no reason why I should resign’ – Nzimande slams parties for ‘playing politics’

And this, after Outa had an existential crisis when President Cyril Ramaphosa took office.

“His ticket was anti-corruption and everyone expected him to cull much of it,” he says.

“We thought we might have to wind down, yet, so far, it has become our busiest period.”

It’s been an upward curve of corruption since. His activism journey began during his tenure at Avis where
he led it to become the first carbon-neutral company in SA, along with a host of other initiatives.

It was the imposition of e-tolls that became the catalyst for his shift towards activism.

A chain of events saw him quit his job and lead the charge on behalf of everyone against government.

E-tolls saga

The trigger was an opinion piece about e-tolls, intended as a routine public relations exercise, which catapulted him into the public eye.

“It was headline news in a newspaper, and from then on, I was sucked into it,” he says.

Soon the media were all over him and the issue.

Everyone else in business was quiet at the time, but he felt someone had to say something.

“E-tolls were an emotional, frustrating thing for the public,” he says, acknowledging the pivotal role media played in driving public discourse around the issue.

ALSO READ: ‘No chance of collecting, which Sanral knows’ – Outa

Fighting the gantries became a boxing match for more than a decade, several rounds in a match for more
than a decade, several rounds in the same bout that finally led to government’s bloody nose.

About two-thirds of the way through the fight in 2016, the Outa team had started receiving volumes of other cases that the public and business had wanted it to look into.

The birth of Outa

It was almost a natural progression after, very publicly, challenging e-tolls.

It was then that the Opposition Against Urban Tolling Alliance became the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse.

Since then, Outa has investigated, exposed and challenged numerous fraud and corruption cases.

Duvenage has called for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to resign after Outa released a report based on leaked voice recordings that contained damning allegations about a patronage network in the department that implicated Nzimande, the Nsfas chair and others.

While whistle-blowers are often at the receiving end of threats, Duvenage says his work has only yielded one incident so far.

During the e-toll saga he was subjected to surveillance and monitoring, likely by entities opposed to his efforts.

“It’s the whistle-blowers who are always threatened, and we got to protect them,” he adds because of the critical role they play in uncovering malfeasance.

It’s laborious, tough work dependent on donations.

But it makes a huge difference in a country where civil activism is limited to a handful of voices raging against the machine.