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Athol Williams
Athol Williams in Oxford, UK, 2017
Athol Williams in Oxford, UK, 2017
Born Athol Williams
(1970-06-20) 20 June 1970 (age 52)
Cape Town, South Africa
Occupation Writer, Social Philosopher
Language English
Nationality South African
Alma mater Oxford University
London School of Economics
Harvard University
London Business School
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of the Witwatersrand
Notable works Deep Collusion
Bumper Cars
Pushing Boulders

Athol Williams (born 20 June 1970) is a South African poet, social philosopher and public intellectual.

Life

Williams was born in Lansdowne, Cape Town, South Africa, and grew up in Mitchells Plain, the coloured township established under apartheid. Before becoming a professional writer and social philosopher, he worked in business for fifteen years, mainly as a strategy advisor.

It was at the University of the Witwatersrand, in 1991, that he published his first poem, "New South Africa", in the student publication Wits Student. The poem captured the newfound optimism associated with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders in 1990.

He is the co-founder of Read to Rise, an NGO that promotes youth literacy by making appropriate books available to children in poor communities and founder of the Institute of Social and Corporate Ethics (ISCE). He serves on the board of New Contrast Literary Magazine, a South African literary journal, and is the founder of the Cape Flats Book Festival.

Anti-corruption

Williams is acknowledged for his anti-corruption and ethical business stance. In October 2019, Williams blew the whistle on Bain & Company stating that they had withheld relevant information from the Nugent Commission investigating irregularities at South African Revenue Service. In December 2019, several media outlets reported that Bain had attempted to buy Williams's silence. The Nugent Commission found that Bain did not make full disclosure. Bain have denied these allegations.

In March 2021, Williams testified for two days before the State Capture Commission presenting evidence relating to Bain's alliance with Jacob Zuma and Tom Moyane in alleged state capture in South Africa. The Commission's final report concluded that Bain's behaviour was 'unlawful' and praised Williams for rejecting hush money and acknowledged his contribution, stating 'it particularly wishes to express its appreciation to Mr Williams for the evidence he gathered and placed before the Commission.' In November 2021, Williams published Deep Collusion: Bain and the capture of South Africa based on his testimony and experience at Bain.

On 1 November 2021, Williams fled South Africa due to safety concerns. As a witness and whistle-blower who implicated dozens of individuals in the ongoing Zondo Commission, he feared possible reprisal. While in exile, Williams collaborated with Lord Peter Hain to draw global attention to Bain's corrupt activities in South Africa. One outcome of this campaign was the announcement by the UK government on 3 August 2022 that its investigation concluded Bain was 'guilty of grave professional misconduct' leading to a 3 year ban from state contracts.

Academic

Williams is the first person to earn five master's degrees from five global top-ranked universities. He holds the following degrees:

Williams has tutored at Oxford University and held the positions of Adjunct Professor at University of the Witwatersrand and Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town, specialising in corporate responsibility and ethical leadership He is currently a Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Stellenbosch. He is currently pursuing a DPhil in Politics (Political Theory) at the University of Oxford.

Writing

From 2009 to 2014, Williams published his poetry under the pseudonym AE Ballakisten. His poetry typically addresses four themes: (i) social justice as in the poems When It Rains, Protest in Colombo and Coat of Arms (ii) exploration of our humanity as in Your Song (iii) inspiration as we find in 39 Postcards or (iv) the surreal as in the poem At Home.

Williams's academic writing focuses on corporate responsibility and business ethics. He is often published in the media on topics of poverty, youth literacy, social justice and corporate malfeasance.

Williams writes regularly on public affairs for publications in South Africa and is a regular radio guest and conference speaker. He has a regular column for Thought Leader and has recently published in the Mail & Guardian, The Big Issue and Business Day.

Literary awards

  • Cultural Affairs Award for Contribution to Literary Arts, Western Cape Provincial Government (2019).
  • South African Independent Publishers Award (2019) for The Oaky Series
  • South African Independent Publishers Award (2017) for Invitation
  • Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (2016)
  • Parallel Universe Poetry Competition Winner, Oxford University (2016).
  • Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (2015)
  • South African Literary Award for Poetry (Runner-up, 2016) for Bumper Cars

Reviews

  • "[Athol Williams] is one of those rare souls who perceives the world as it is with all its flaws and does whatever is in his power to change it. He uses well-chosen words and a natural gift for storytelling in this collection to create short narratives about issues which are familiar to us all." – Janet van Eeden
  • "South African poet [Athol Williams]'s latest collection of poems seethes with rage over the violence humanity inflicts upon itself and the natural world. Hope flickers amid the bleakness ... [Williams]'s book serves as a call to action, urging readers to stop condoning violence." – Camille-Yvette Welsch
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