Athol Williams

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Athol Williams
Athol Williams in Oxford, UK, 2017
Athol Williams in Oxford, UK, 2017
BornAthol Williams
(1970-06-20) 20 June 1970 (age 53)
Cape Town, South Africa
OccupationWriter, Social Philosopher
NationalitySouth African
Alma materOxford University
London School of Economics
Harvard University
London Business School
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of the Witwatersrand
Notable worksDeep Collusion
Bumper Cars
Pushing Boulders

Athol Williams (born 20 June 1970) is a South African poet, social philosopher and public intellectual based at Oxford University.[1]


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.[2]

He is the co-founder of Read to Rise,[3] 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,[4] and is the founder of the Cape Flats Book Festival.[5]


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.[6][7][8][9] In December 2019, several media outlets reported that Bain had attempted to buy Williams's silence.[10][11][12][13] The Nugent Commission found that Bain did not make full disclosure.[14] Bain have denied these allegations.[15][16]

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.[17][18][19][20] 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.'[21] In November 2021, Williams published Deep Collusion: Bain and the capture of South Africa based on his testimony and experience at Bain.[22]

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.[23][24] 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.[25][26][27]


Williams holds three academic posts at Oxford University. In 2023 he was appointed Lecturer in Management at Said Business School and Lecturer in Management at St Peter's College.[28] He has held the position of Research Associate at Hertford College[1] since 2022.

He is the first person to earn five master's degrees from five global top-ranked universities.[29] He is currently pursuing a DPhil in Politics (Political Theory) at the University of Oxford.[30] He holds the following degrees:

Williams has 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[34] He was also a Research Fellow in the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Stellenbosch.[35]


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,[36][37] youth literacy,[38] social justice[39] and corporate malfeasance.[40][41][42]

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[43][44] and has recently published in the Mail & Guardian,[45] The Big Issue[46] and Business Day.[41]



  • Heap of Stones (2009; Theart Press)
  • Talking to a Tree: Poems of a Fragile World (2011; Theart Press)[47]
  • Bumper Cars. Onslaught Press. 2015. ISBN 978-0-9927238-7-3.
  • Invitation (2017; Theart Press)[48]
  • Fragile (2020; Theart Press)[49]
  • Whistleblowing (2021; Geko Publishing)[50]


Children's books[edit]

Awards and honours[edit]


  • Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (2015)[65]
  • Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award (2016)[66]
  • Parallel Universe Poetry Competition, Winner, Oxford University (2016).[67]
  • South African Independent Publishers Award (2017) for Invitation[68]
  • Cultural Affairs Award for Contribution to Literary Arts, Western Cape Provincial Government (2019).[69]

Public Service[edit]

  • Special Recognition Award, Blueprint for Free Speech, Australia, 2022[70]
  • Chairman's Award, SA Chamber of Commerce UK, 2022[71]
  • Mayor's Medal for Extraordinary Bravery, Cape Town, South Africa, 2023[72][73]


  1. ^ a b "Athol Williams".
  2. ^ a b WITS Review, January 2012, University of the Witwatersrand
  3. ^ "Meet the READ to RISE Management Team". Read to Rise. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  4. ^ "About Us". New Contrast Literary Magazine. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  5. ^ "Mitchells Plain hosting Cape Flats book festival ahead of National Book Week". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  6. ^ "WATCH: Athol Williams shakes finance fraternity with public resignation from Bain & Company". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  7. ^ "Athol Williams leaves Bain just six months after joining". 22 October 2019. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  8. ^ "NATASHA MARRIAN: Whistleblower spills the beans on Bain". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  9. ^ "The man who saw through Bain's spin and 5 highlights from 'Vrye Weekblad'". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  10. ^ Mahlaka, Ray (19 December 2019). "Business Maverick: Athol Williams: 'Bain & Company trying to silence me about its role in State Capture'". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  11. ^ Buthelezi, Londiwe. "Bain 'fixer' Williams: 'I've been through hell the last 2 months'". Fin24. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  12. ^ "ex-partner-hired-to-fix-bain-south-africa-turns-against-firm". Bloomberg. 19 December 2019. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  13. ^ Natasha Marrian. "Partner that Bain brought in to clear its image now accuses it of attempted cover-up". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  14. ^ "SARS Commission 2018". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  15. ^ "Bain denies withholding evidence of alleged SARS wrongdoing | eNCA". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  16. ^ "Bain & Company Statement: December 20, 2019". Bain. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  17. ^ "Day 367". Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State.
  18. ^ News, Eyewitness. "WATCH LIVE: Athol Williams continues testimony at state capture commission". Retrieved 11 June 2021. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  19. ^ Nicolson, Greg (23 March 2021). "DAYS OF ZONDO: Bain & Co planned to work with Zuma to 'reshape SA economy', says former partner Athol Williams". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  20. ^ "State Capture | I received a lot of threats - Athol Williams | eNCA". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  21. ^ "Zondo gives whistleblower Athol Williams a glowing tribute". 4 January 2022.
  22. ^ Willliams, Athol. "EXCERPT | Athol William's 'Deep Collusion': Bain & Co's meetings with Zuma". Life.
  23. ^ "Public Statement - FORCED TO LEAVE". Athol Williams. 7 November 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  24. ^ "Athol Williams: South Africa corruption whistle-blower flees for his life". BBC. 8 November 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  25. ^ "Bain barred from UK state contracts over 'grave misconduct' in South Africa". Financial Times. 2 August 2022.
  26. ^ "Bain consultancy banned from government work over 'misconduct'". BBC News. 3 August 2022.
  27. ^ Ralph, Tom Howard. "Consultancy banned from Whitehall work over Zuma corruption claims".
  28. ^
  29. ^ "SA poet receives Master's degrees from fifth top university | Cape Times". Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  30. ^ "Athol Williams". Oxford University. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  31. ^ The Plainsman, 17 February 2010
  32. ^ "Interview with Athol Williams » Africa Oxford Initiative". Archived from the original on 26 September 2017. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  33. ^ LSE Digest (PDF), London School of Economics, 1 August 2013
  34. ^ "UCT Graduate School of Business". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  35. ^ "PROSPER – US Philosophy Department". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  36. ^ Williams, Athol. "OPINION: The need to build a new South Africa for its 57 million inhabitants". News24. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  37. ^ "SA's poor bear the burden of Covid-19, says Prof Athol Williams". CapeTalk. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  38. ^ "Picture books: A great way to encourage children to read". The Mail & Guardian. 12 December 2018. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  39. ^ Williams, Athol. "Business as usual won't fix youth unemployment, poverty and inequality". Citypress. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  40. ^ "Six steps for company reparations". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  41. ^ a b "Criminal justice after corporate corruption is just the beginning". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  42. ^ Williams, Athol (15 October 2018). "OP-ED: What do we want from Bain?". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  43. ^ "Thought Leader opinion pieces brought to you by the Mail & Guardian". Thought Leader.
  44. ^ "Athol Williams, Author at Thought Leader".
  45. ^ "Corporate amends: What is enough?". The Mail & Guardian. 14 March 2021. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  46. ^ "Living without chaos". The Big Issue South Africa. 25 March 2021. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  47. ^ Jou naam* (15 February 2012). "AE Ballakisten in conversation with Janet van Eeden". LitNet. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  48. ^ "theartpress - POETRY BOOKS". theartpress. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  49. ^ "Fragile". Theart Press. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  50. ^ Daniels, Nicola. "Poetry blows the whistle on state capture, injustice and GBV in SA".
  51. ^ "Deep Collusion - Bain and the Capture of South Africa (Paperback)".
  52. ^ Guy, Duncan. "Join the fight against a 'grave evil' - corruption".
  53. ^ "Westridge poet launches autobiography - Plainsman". Plainsman. 12 October 2016. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  54. ^ Williams, Athol (13 October 2016). Pushing Boulders: Oppressed to Inspired (1 ed.). Theart Press. ASIN B01M3Q1FNX.
  55. ^ "Non-fiction". Athol Williams. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  56. ^ Oliphant, Porchia (10 September 2015). "Author uses skills to help uplift others" (PDF). Cape Argus.
  57. ^ a b "theartpress - CHILDRENS BOOKS". theartpress. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  58. ^ "UCT academic authors free COVID-19 children's book". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  59. ^ "New free to download picture book helps children understand COVID-19". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  60. ^ "'Oaky and the Virus' new book teaching children about the lockdown, virus". Good Things Guy. 21 April 2020. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  61. ^ "'Oaky and the Virus' a New Book Teaching Children About COVID-19". Inside Education. 2 May 2020. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  62. ^ "Free books to help children understand COVID-19". ECR. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  63. ^ Donna Slater (17 April 2020). "Children's author, publisher make Covid-19-awareness book available for free". Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  64. ^ "Oaky in the Playground". Theart Press.
  65. ^ Wolf, Raphael (15 December 2015). "Mitchells Plain academic wins top poetry prize". IOL. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  66. ^ "2016 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award announced - a second win for Athol Williams". Jacana @ Sunday Times Books LIVE. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  67. ^ "Radcliffe Science Library | Poetry competition 2016". Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  68. ^ Africa, PEN South. "South African Independent Publishers | PEN South Africa". Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  69. ^ "Info" (PDF). Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  70. ^ "Athol Williams (South Africa) 2022 SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD".
  71. ^ "AWARDS-The South African Chamber of Commerce".
  72. ^ "City of Cape Town Council Address". City of Cape Town. 24 August 2023. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  73. ^ "Cape Town bravery medal a 'rare ray of light', says whistleblower Athol Williams". Independent Online. 25 August 2023.

External links[edit]