Heinrich Böhmke is a Durban consultant and corruption buster who spends much of his time investigating and prosecuting errant civil servants.
Böhmke grew up in the platteland and went to Wits University.
He has a history in academia and organizing trade unions, though he has worked in a law firm, for a publishing company and also trains investigative reporters.
His works allows him to tap into a rich vein for his writing and provided him with the material for his debut novel, Sarie.
Sarie is an engrossing story, forthrightly told and well worth reading.
Böhmke has produced an ensemble of robust, interesting characters whose dialogue is gritty. He is a talented storyteller and Sarie is an authentic and thought provoking story.
I must confess, I may not have read Böhmke’s novel had I not seen a hearty endorsement from Rian Malan, a writer I rate highly.
“A murderous cocktail of sex, greed, and post-modern South African racial psychosis. The writing is great, the dialogue funny and the political analysis sharper than a bicycle spoke between the ribs. I am seriously envious,” wrote the author of My Traitor’s Heart.
Set in the Eastern Cape, Sarie’s storyline is alluring: “A Khoikhoi assassin, a blackmailed premier, a suicidal academic and a girl fleeing violence centuries deep …Four lives in crisis.”
Sarie has great pace and the story comes to a head on one day in an East London hotel.
Denis Beckett says “sacred cows are stomped on all over” in Sarie.
He’s right: Böhmke is merciless: the characters don’t mince their words.
In an online interview he says South African “crankiness and aversion to bullshittery helps us along in life”. Indeed.
In the same interview, Böhmke says Sarie’s ending belongs to the readers.
If I have any criticism of the book it would be that I wanted more. The idea for the protagonist, Sarie, is as clever as it is enticing.
031business spoke to the author about his work.
Question: How did you get into your line of work?
Answer: With two partners I formed a company, the Specialised Skills Institute of SA, so that I could do things to which I was naturally drawn. Before, no specific job existed allowing me to deal with brewing legal disputes well before they erupted, or making sure corrupt officials were properly investigated, or helping journalists working in the world’s hotspots sharpen their stories. So, as part of a training company, I offered these services and, by word of mouth, these separate strands of vocation became income streams.
Question: What is the upside and what’s the downside?
Answer: The downside is being unable to plan my life. I can get a call this evening about a brewing strike, and be in Rustenburg tomorrow. The upside is definitely seeing bad guys, who thought they could bluster their way through, coming unstuck.
Question: Please give us a précis of your average day?
Answer: I’m on a cramped dawn flight somewhere, then hastily ubering to ‘the venue’. For the next few hours, I either mediate, train or play legal chess in a disciplinary hearing of a senior manager. In the evening in the hotel, I field queries from journalists from all over Africa or write a few pages pretending to be a novelist.
Question: What advice would you give managers and stakeholders in companies and institutions to protect their entities from corruption?
Answer: It’s about three interwoven things: having systems in place to make corruption harder, detecting instances of corruption, and firmly and consistently holding those who commit financial misconduct to account.
To expand: on the proactive side, it’s useful to split financial decision-making so that, for example in procurement, the same people do not determine a bid’s specifications and evaluate it. Rotating key decision-makers, obtaining disclosures of financial interests of key employees and, crucially, verifying them are also important. Unfortunately, corruption often thrives within the good relationships your employees have with your customers. You must keep an eye on these relationships or regulate them.
In detection, internal audit controls, random probity checks, monitoring communications (within the ambit of RICA) and encouraging whistleblowing are important. You’d also be amazed at the red-flags software can pick up.
On the reactive side there is making sure dismissals stick, suing in the civil courts, asset forfeiture and blacklisting (of both the corrupter and corrupted). By the way, dismissal may be justified not only of the primary offenders but also of those employees who knew and, for no good reason, did nothing. The legal and policy infrastructure to detect and punish corruption really does exist in this country. The problem is in execution.
Question: Why do you choose to live in Durban and where do you live in the city?
Answer: You can move from one side of the city to another in under 30 minutes. The beach is an amazing public space. It’s a great city, chilled, a little grungy and with a winter on Wednesday in July of every year.
Question: What do you do in your spare time?
Answer: I am at the beck and call of my daughter. I also collect antiquarian books, mainly about the Eastern Cape history. I’m always on the look out for a rare tome.
Sarie is available at Adams and other leading bookstores and for sale online at http://heinrichbohmke.com/sarie/