By Kotie Geldenhuys
The untimely death of Suna Venter, an SABC journalist, in June 2017, is confirmation that threat assessment and management in the workplace is essential. Suna was part of the so-called SABC 8, who were suspended from the SABC in 2016 for disagreeing with orders to not cover anti-government and anti-media censorship protests that were taking place outside the SABC’s offices in Cape Town. The Labour Court ruled that they had been unfairly and unlawfully dismissed and had to be reinstated. But Suna who was regarded as the one who was leading the charge against the SABC, soon began to receive anonymous death threats.
Her flat was broken into multiple times, her vehicle’s tyres were slashed, she was allegedly assaulted on three separate occasions, shot at and once even abducted. She often stayed with a colleague and his family because she was scared to be at her own home where she lived alone. One morning when she got into her vehicle outside her colleague’s house, she realised that her vehicle’s brake cables had been cut. After a prolonged period of being exposed to workplace threats and acts of violence relating to her job as a journalist, Suna was diagnosed with a cardiac condition. Stress cardiomyopathy, also known as Broken Heart Syndrome, was eventually the cause of this 32-year-old journalist’s untimely death (Clark, 2017).
As a result of human nature, all workplaces will experience some form of workplace violence and threats since conflict is part and parcel of human interaction. However, there are certain occupations, such as law enforcement, correctional services, healthcare services, prosecutors, banking services, auditing services, customer care services and journalism, that lend themselves to be more exposed to work-related threats.
Such threats can come from:
- Strangers who:
- Make bomb threats to a company, which is what happened at Menlyn Maine in September 2019 where a man walked into a bank and handed a note to a bank teller. The note contained a threat claiming that a bomb was planted inside the bank. The security officers and SAPS reacted and immediately evacuated the whole shopping centre, but no explosive device was found. The man was arrested and charged (Mahlokwane, 2019). But real bombers seldom take the trouble of making bomb threats beforehand. For example, during July 2018, explosive devices were found in shops inside the Pavilion and the Gateway shopping malls in Durban (Wicks, 2018).
- Rob a bank or shop, as was the case on 3 August 2020 when three men stormed into a jewellery store at The Glen Shopping Centre, south of Johannesburg and threatened the staff with firearms, before locking them in a room. The three men were subsequently joined by seven more accomplices who looted the jeweller (Thusi, 2020).
- Demand ransom after hacking a company’s database. Extortion threats are some of the threats faced by companies in the digital era. Data is usually the “commodity” that extortionists use to threaten companies. On 14 June 2018, hackers infiltrated the South African insurer, Liberty Holdings’ information technology systems and extracted 40 TB of data. The hackers threatened to make that data public unless Liberty paid a ransom, but the insurer refused to pay the money. The hack was made possible via e-mail systems, often the weakest link in any business. All the cybercriminals require is for one unsuspecting staff member to open an e-mail attachment which releases malware and gives such hackers access to a company’s database (Khumalo, 2018). Liberty Holdings’s share price dropped by 4.7% in the two days after the attack, wiping R1.68 billion off the firm’s R34 billion market value. Even without paying the ransom, Liberty Holdings suffered a significant financial blow (www.itweb.co.za/content/dgp45qaGabl7X9l8).
Many South African companies have in recent years fallen victim to cybercrime resulting in the loss of millions of rand. In 2017, Standard Bank was hit by a multimillion-rand fraud that involved the withdrawal of cash using a number of fictitious cards at various ATMs in Japan. At the time the loss was estimated at approximately R300 million. In 2012, South Africa’s Post Bank lost R43 million to a cybercrime syndicate.
- Frustrated customers, clients or community members for example threaten and swear at employees at a bank, hospital or police station. An example of a frustrated customer occurred in March 2019 when an angry woman rammed her vehicle into a Standard Bank Branch on the East Rand following an argument with a bank teller who failed to help her (News24.com, 2019).
- Co-workers intimidate and bully others in the office, employees send inappropriate e-mails of a sexual nature to other co-workers and suicidal employees threaten to harm themselves or others.
- Romantic partners, for example former spouses threaten their ex-partners at their offices.