Wayne Duvenage heads up OUTA – that courageous challenge to corrupt officialdom.
A decade ago, when he was climbing the corporate ladder at a rapid pace, businessman Wayne Duvenage wouldn’t have dreamt he’d give it all up to become a social activist.
What started off as a part-time campaign against the South African National Roads Agency’s (SANRAL) “irrational and unworkable” e-tolls proposal in 2012 has, for Duvenage and his team, grown into a full-time civil activism job, tackling a whole spectrum of rogue-state shenanigans.
After starting the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) in 2012, the former CEO of Avis (Duvenage’s previous job) was asked by more and more people to widen his mandate. He explains: “We were persuaded to take our effort beyond the e-toll matter to government tax abuse, corruption and inefficient tax policies.”
In February last year, with the same OUTA acronym, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse was formed, with offices in Randburg, and Duvenage as chairman. Jacob Zuma, the Guptas, Bank of Baroda, Eskom, SAA, the Hawks and the nuclear deal are just a few of the items that have since appeared on their list of targets. “Who’s next? Coming soon …” declares the OUTA website.
“Our aim is to challenge the rationality of government decisions,” Duvenage told Noseweek in an interview. When the new OUTA started its operation two years ago they were a three-person team. Today 38 staff work on more than 30 projects. “If we could double our staff, we could double our cases,” said Duvenage.
While in the corporate world, he never thought he’d end up in the civil activism space, “but, looking back, there was always an activist in me”. (See Meet the David who challenges Goliath below.)
“What we’ve achieved since then makes me realise we can fix our country. There’s nothing more important and powerful than people who realise their strength against a state that’s gone rogue.”
A key to their success, said Duvenage, is that although they operate in the non-profit space, “we run the organisation like a business. To do this work properly we had to get the right people on board and pay them market-related salaries. In this game of effective civil intervention you need continuity and good people, as the cases we tackle often take a few years and millions of rands to bring to a close”.
OUTA’s website gives thorough summaries and updates on current projects, from state capture to transport, energy, water and environment, communication and government policy. The site features a gripping Le Carré-like video summary of each project, including photos of the accused.
• On 29 August OUTA filed charges at the Randburg Police Station against suspended Eskom Chief Financial Officer Anoj Singh, for having “bent over backwards to pave the way for lucrative deals for the Gupta empire”.
Days before this, following the reported decision by Bank of Baroda to close the Guptas’ bank accounts by the end of September, OUTA called on the government to ensure the mine rehabilitation funds in the Guptas’ mining venture accounts with the bank are not tampered with. “The rehabilitation funds at risk are for Optimum and Koornfontein coal mines, which are owned by the Gupta-owned Tegeta Exploration and Resources, valued jointly at more than R1.75 billion.”
• On 25 August OUTA issued a letter of demand to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, copied to the SA Reserve Bank, asking them to secure the rehabilitation funds, because “there are tax implications for unused rehabilitation funds, which include tax deductions for mining companies”.
• On 17 July OUTA laid charges of treason against ex-Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, who is now the Minister of Public Service and Administration, who, in OUTA’s words, has also been captured by the Guptas. “Her transgressions are so serious that this merits treason charges. She acted irrationally and unlawfully in her appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as chief operating officer of the SABC, following the Public Protector’s findings against him of abuse of power, and of fraud and maladministration. Muthambi’s abuse of power led to the SABC’s current financial crisis, plunging it into billions of rands in debt.”
• On 24 July they laid charges of treason against Zwane for “actively aiding state capture and causing massive financial loss to South Africa”.
“Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s relationship with the Guptas was unofficial, unethical and illegal. He cost the country about R1.9 billion in the loss of money from the Vrede dairy project and two mine rehabilitation funds, all of which went to the Guptas.”
• On 28 July they laid charges of treason against the director-general of Public Enterprises Richard Seleke. “He abused his position on the Transnet board to sell out South Africa to the Guptas, helping set up a secret deal that resulted in the Guptas’ Tequesta company getting R5.2 billion from China South Rail for setting up the deal to sell Transnet locomotives.”
• On 31 July they filed a case against the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority to “force them to do their jobs” on the investigation into massive corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).
• On 3 August they laid charges of treason, racketeering, extortion, fraud and forgery against the Gupta brothers and Duduzane Zuma, in connection with allegations of state capture.
• On 4 August they laid charges of corruption and abuse of his position against former Eskom director Mark Pamensky at the Brooklyn Police Station, relating to Pamensky’s conduct while a director of Eskom and of at least one business linked to the Guptas’ business empire.
In the meantime OUTA’s fight against e-tolls goes on and is in final stages of preparations for litigation.
OUTA’s website also invites the public to shelter under OUTA’s e-toll Defence Umbrella. “Don’t wait for a summons … We will fully represent at no charge any individual or business who is under our e-toll Defence Umbrella,” states OUTA.
Their message to government, as stated on the site, is this: “We are not your enemy. Please don’t treat your critics with disdain. Try instead to walk with us and your people. We simply desire to live in a corruption-free and efficiently-managed country. We will not go away.”
The organisation is also engaged in backing the National Energy Regulator (NERSA), to ensure that Eskom meets NERSA’s requirements and keeps its operating costs transparent. This in the wake of Eskom’s application to NERSA for permission to keep certain information on costs secret, claiming it was unable to provide detailed information.
Of current projects, said Duvenage, “the big one is the No Room To Hide document, related to state capture and the ousting of Zuma. The document forms part of the legal challenge against the President when we go to court … nobody has done it in the way we’ve done it or presented sufficient evidence based on facts to Parliament. It’s a long journey. He’s hanging in there and getting weaker and weaker as a result of civil society and pressure.
“Then, we’ve started taking action against individuals on separate incidents related to state capture and to the Eskom matter.
“A big one is for us to ensure that NERSA doesn’t allow Eskom to get away with running roughshod over its responsibilities, and to ensure NERSA is empowered with complaints by civil society. When they are empowered by the public it gives them more wind in their sails to challenge Eskom. We aim to keep Eskom honest.
“We introduced project management specialisation into specific portfolios such as Energy, Transport, Water and Environment etc.
“The big difference between OUTA then and now is that, in the past we relied on expensive lawyers to build the case, which takes time and costs a lot. We now have five lawyers, who can take information and build a case quickly to lay charges against state-owned enterprises that are failing us.
“The first step is to research the matter properly; then we go to those implicated and give them an opportunity to explain themselves. For instance, we ask them if they’re going to cancel the deal they’ve done. Depending on their response, we might go to the third step of exposing the issue, through social media and the mainstream media, to mobilise society. Lastly, if nothing happens, we go to court or lay charges with the police or, for instance, the Competition Commission or the Auditor General.
“It’s not always about running to court.”
As a youngster and then in the business world, Duvenage always believed one should never become too complacent about the status quo. “Whenever I thought things were wrong in the corporate world I tried to take it on. That was what drove me. But what I saw in the corporate world was this reluctance to challenge the state. When the state was doing things fundamentally wrong and needed to be challenged, I noticed an uneasiness in business to do this. It was a case of ‘don’t upset the government, as you generally come second’. It was easier to forego the challenge needed against local, regional or national governance when in fact we needed to put our foot down.”
Duvenage believes that South Africa has been hijacked. “The state institutions supposed to protect us and hold government to account have been switched off and hijacked by the President. In reality, a lot of the people we are charging should be in jail, including Zuma. Until that happens, they will get away with theft. The sad reality is our ability to grow economically and to create jobs is stymied as people don’t want to invest in an environment where state policy is not clear, governance is shocking and performance is bad. Where the education system is failing.”
OUTA has an online web portal so that whistleblowers can interact with them securely. “Some walk in, some we meet off-site to give us information.
“There are a lot of good people in government; professional, well-meaning individuals and teams working behind the scenes, doing a good job at SARS, the Treasury, SAA, SANRAL and even Eskom. But they are fighting against their bosses who are circumventing the systems to enrich the connected individuals. It’s a lonely place for them. OUTA offers them hope.
“The cases that really gobsmack me are still in the pipelines. Let me say, there are people in high places in government who are now realising what’s gone wrong … and are realising they must step out of their comfort zone and create an environment for change. They’re coming to us. The tide is turning fast against the corrupt politicians.
“This work requires guts, tenacity and courage and it’s a beautiful place to be. We get hundreds of positive messages every day. All I wish is that government realise they cannot continually turn to taxpayers and ask for more money when the bucket is leaking; realise they are there to serve, and run the country in the best interests of the people.
“If you look at civil society today and compare it with the apathy of five years ago you realise we’ve come a long way.
“As OUTA we know we have no option but to take on state capture and hold the government to account if we are to remain meaningful to the public who fund us.
“The reality of the situation is that we shouldn’t exist. We’re happy to do ourselves out of a job, if things come clean and our country is firing on all four cylinders.”
THE E-TOLLS SAGA
Duvenage had been working as Chief Executive of Avis for about five years when the e-toll matter arose. “It was a scheme aimed at subjecting Gauteng motorists to a new toll road tax, by way of erecting 45 electronic tolling gantries along 185 kilometres of the recently upgraded freeway network. The scheme generated a lot of confusion and anger in the motoring public as well as in unions, business organisations and other civil society groupings.
“It was a decision that lacked the necessary consultation with society. Suddenly a new tax applied to an existing road.”
At the time Duvenage was also chairing the SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association (SAVRALA). “I told them we need to challenge this as an industry.”
OUTA was formed as an alliance of business associations in February 2012, to legally challenge the e-toll decision. After a year of engaging with SANRAL on the concerns and flaws in the scheme SAVRALA decided to raise a legal challenge.
“We were joined by other organisations, including the Quad-Para Association of SA, the Retail Motor Industries, SA Tourism Service Association and the SA National Consumer Union.”
Thus started what became a drawn-out legal battle, while many members of the public joined a civil disobedience campaign by refusing to cooperate with the fitting of e-tags or not paying the fees.
Following the successful interdict Duvenage felt OUTA needed his full attention and he resigned from Avis to focus on the case.
“The government’s ‘attrition through lawfare’ strategy kicked into full gear. They spent millions on top senior counsel to fight the court review we had introduced to try to stop the scheme.”
Meet the David who challenges Goliath
Wayne Duvenage was born in 1960 in Harare and moved to Newcastle in South Africa with his parents when he was five, after the then Rhodesian’s government’s declaration of UDI.
After his parents divorced he and his sister lived with their father who worked in the construction industry. Wayne attended Newcastle High School and then went to the University of Natal in Durban where, though wanting to be an architect or lawyer, he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in 1982, followed by two years of National Service.
“At university, I started my journey of understanding what it meant to challenge what was wrong.”
In 1985 he got his first job as a trainee in the Durban operation at Avis.
“I didn’t see car rental as a career, but what struck me about the company was that it was very progressive, growth-oriented and competitive, as well as being people-focused. Within three months I was given my first management role to set up and run a new branch in the Transkei.”
Duvenage progressed to bigger and bigger operations, including being appointed to head up Avis’s Namibian operation.
“Being thrown into an organisation that was creative and empowering, and allowed you to challenge the status quo, was great.
“I take my hat off to Glen van Heerden, founding member of Avis, who helped build this incredible organisation which allowed people to be well trained, well developed and empowered to make decisions.”
Duvenage moved up the ranks to become operations director for Avis Southern Africa in 1996, but after a few years felt it was time for change.
In Magaliesburg where he lived with his family from 2001 to 2006, he ran a small four-star country hotel.
“It was a fun time of our lives.”
He retained some corporate responsibility, as general manager of the SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association (SAVRALA), from 2003 to 2006.
In 2006, Duvenage was invited to re-join Avis as operations director, and, in 2007, was appointed chief executive, where he stayed for five years.
In February 2012 he was largely responsible for the establishment of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, OUTA, which interdicted the launch of Gauteng’s e-toll scheme in April 2012. By August 2012, he had resigned from Avis to dedicate more time to OUTA’s challenge against government’s decision to subject the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project to an irrational e-tolling funding mechanism.
He piloted the new OUTA – Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse – and has chaired the organisation since its inception.
Duvenage admires anyone who “stands up even when the odds are against them and challenges that which is wrong”: people like Makhosi Khoza, Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas, Hugh Glenister and Mark Heywood
“In fact I turned to some of these people when I started off and asked them, ‘how do I fight these things? This is foreign stuff to me. I come out of the business world.’ I learnt a great deal from them.
“At the same time I took business applications and communications strategies to make OUTA become one of the country’s most successful civil intervention organisations. You can’t run growing, successful NGOs on the back of old-style handout thinking, you have to prove your worth and be relevant.”
He tends to read “more articles than books” and loves travel, particularly in Africa – Botswana, Namibia and Southern Africa in general – with his family. “I cherish the wealth of diversity we have in SA.”
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