Either South Africa’s intelligence agents need to have a spell checker installed on their computers or rogue conspiracy theorists that periodically churn out documents alleging sinister political plots should hire proof readers. These documents have become de rigueur with every new political development in the ANC and the alliance. Most are so badly written and conspiracies so badly sewn up that Mfundi Vundla wouldn’t even consider them for the new ‘Generations’ script. The latest document alleges metalworkers’ union Numsa is involved in an elaborate underground plot to effect regime change. The document writers seem to have missed that Numsa has openly declared its intention to change government, and that it is not illegal. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The first post-democracy disinformation campaign document led to the resignation of the former chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), General Georg Meiring. In February 1998, Meiring handed the document to then-President Nelson Mandela. The report alleged there was a left-wing plot to topple the government under the banner of a group called “Front African People’s Liberation Army” (FAPLA). Those involved, according to the document, included Robert McBride, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Bantu Holomisa and the man who would later become the chief of the SANDF, Siphiwe Nyanda.
The definitive hint that the report was rubbish was that among the 130 names of the alleged plotters listed was Michael Jackson. Yes, that Michael Jackson, the now-deceased King of Pop.
Within two months of handing the report to Mandela, Meiring fell on his sword and resigned. This was after a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by Mandela found the report to be “utterly fantastic”.
The problem with the progression of similarly nonsensical reports that have surfaced since then is that several people in authority believed them. The document that emerged in 2001, alleging there was a plot by senior ANC leaders including Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa to topple Thabo Mbeki’s government, was given credence by the former Minister of Safety and Security Steve Tshwete on national television.
The infamous Browse Mole report alleged that the Angolan intelligence establishment was supporting Jacob Zuma in his bid for the presidency. It also claimed Zuma was receiving funding from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and that ex-members of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe had met “to frame strategies largely at a military level in support of the Zuma cause”.
As ludicrous as the allegations were, some people in the ANC and government loyal to Mbeki did not dismiss the document out of hand. They believed elements of the document to be true. This is part of the reason they lost the battle for power at the ANC’s Polokwane conference – they resorted to chasing shadows and demons instead of focusing on the ground level mobilisation campaign of the Zuma camp.
During the Zuma administration, there has been a plethora of similar reports, including former Crime Intelligence boss Richard Mdluli’s “Ground Coverage Report”, alleging senior ANC leaders were involved in a plot to unseat the president.
There have also been concocted dossiers linking Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi to similar plots. It seems every president, apart from Kgalema Motlanthe, has been in danger of being overthrown by people within the ANC, and their only saviours are people with bad spelling and grammar that compile intelligence reports warning of the coming doom. Perhaps Motlanthe’s seven-month stint as president was too short to cook up a conspiracy, or perhaps it was obvious to even the conspiracy theorists that all he wanted was to get out of the hot seat at that time anyway.
Apart from the annihilation of the English language, all the documents have a similar thread – disgruntled ANC leaders working with foreign organisations to topple the sitting government through undemocratic means. The drafters of these documents seem not to appreciate that South Africa has free political activity and an open democracy so there is absolutely no need for a violent overthrow of the government. They have the hallmarks of the disinformation campaigns run by the Apartheid government, just less sophisticated.
Zuma won the ANC presidency through democratic means and when Mbeki supporters were disgruntled with his recall, they left and formed the Congress of the People. They did not opt to stay inside the ANC and plot a takeover. Similarly, when Malema was expelled from the ANC, he openly declared that he was forming his own political organisation, the Economic Freedom Fighters. His party contested the 2014 elections, openly aimed to draw support away from the ANC, and won six percent of the vote.
No conspiracy in any of these major political developments. No need for it.
When Vavi ran into trouble last year with Cosatu, the document that emerged about him alleged the United States was funding efforts to undermine the South African government. Vavi reported the matter to the Inspector-General of Intelligence Faith Radebe to investigate the origins. Nothing came of that investigation.
However, Vavi’s opponents, including Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, allegedly believed the contents of the report and quoted it publicly.
The expulsion of metalworkers’ union from Cosatu has given rise to a brand new fake conspiracy dossier. The document, titled ‘Exposed: Secret Regime Change Plot to Distabilize [sic] South Africa’, was sent to media houses, including Daily Maverick, two weeks ago, and is purported to be drafted by “concerned members within Numsa”.
It claims Numsa leaders Irvin Jim and Karl Cloete are involved in socialist plot to engineer regime change, with, among others, four professors, former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki. The document claims the strategies of the group include instigating “widespread violence and instability”, “relying on radical and forceful approaches to addressing economic equalities such as ‘land grabs’”, and destabilising the mining sector. The group will establish “their own intelligence structures (in collaboration with foreign governments and international companies) to facilitate their regime change agenda”, the document states.
Numsa came out fighting on Wednesday, saying the document was aimed at destroying the union and deterring it from its chosen path to form a United Front and Movement for Socialism. “The ‘dirty tricks’ document is part of this well-orchestrated plan. This intervention aims to criminalise and demonise Numsa. The strategy is to cast aspersions on what our agenda is and separate the union’s leadership from its base,” Cloete said.
“Now that our resolutions are finding traction, there is panic all over. Even the president of the ANC Jacob Zuma had to admit at the aborted ANC Youth League conference that not only the youth is in crisis but the parent body is in dire straits,” he said.
Numsa is further infuriated by the fact that a South African Communist Party (SACP) statement released on at the weekend said in its first line “expose the regime-change agenda”. “Like the ‘secret regime change plot’ document, the SACP accuses those who are behind plans to overthrow the government –‘neoliberals and pseudo-left populists alike’ – of exploiting the persistence of the crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality to further their aims. Similar to the so-called exposé, the SACP warns metalworkers against what is their union’s resolution to explore the formation of an alternative political party,” Numsa said.
Jim said the SACP needed to explain how it came to be that they used the same language as in the “rogue document” alleging treason. “Do they have a hand in this document?” he asked.
The SACP issued a statement distancing itself from the document, which it said appeared to “combine fact and fiction in advancing a conspiracy theory”. “It is Jim and his clique who need to clarify whether their agenda is regime change or not,” the SACP said.
Cloete said they were taking the document seriously as it was not isolated from other nefarious activities going on. He said Numsa shop stewards in the Eastern Cape and Ekurhuleni had been approached to spy on the union’s activities by people suspected of being from the State Security Agency.
“In recent weeks, cars of our officials have been followed, broken into and laptops stolen. On Friday 28 November 2014, a suspicious-looking convoy followed the car of Numsa’s general secretary, jumping red traffic lights as he tried to shake the tail behind him,” Cloete said. He said activists in social movements, investigative journalists and critics of the status quo were also being targeted.
Numsa said it would lodge a complaint with the Inspector-General of Intelligence but also wanted to mobilise human rights and press freedom organisations to investigate “any possible abuses or infringements of the rights to privacy, freedom and security by intelligence operatives and other securocrats”.
The problem, though, is that these documents will continue to be concocted as long as there are people stupid enough to believe them. It is mind-blowing that so many nonsensical reports have been concocted over the years and are still talking points.
The one reason for this is the paranoia amongst political leaders – these fake dossiers prey on their weaknesses and insecurities. Secondly, they disregard the fact that their political opponents openly declare their criticism and intentions to campaign against them. Therefore there is no need for secret plots when an open democracy allows free political activity. Thirdly, those mentioned in the reports usually go into a tailspin, giving the drafters some level of satisfaction or amusement.
Numsa has announced that it openly it no longer supports the ANC. It also called for Zuma to step down. It has announced it is going its own way politically, and it is consulting a whole range of people to chart the way ahead.
This is not a plot.
It is not treasonous or illegal.
It is not “regime change”.
It is called democracy.
Someone needs to explain this to the conspiracy theorists so that the stupidity can stop. DM
Photo: Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim is seen with deputy general secretary Karl Cloete (foreground) at a news conference in Johannesburg, Wednesday, 3 December 2014 on a document, titled Exposed: Secret regime
Bladerunner (1980s version) is a visual feast due in large part to the Hollywood Actors Strike. This allowed the designers an extra three months to refine the sets and props.