Being uninformed is so last season
24 January 2018 11:58 (South Africa)
South Africa

Analysis: Zuma, Gordhan, spy tapes & rogue units – lancing the boil that has infected the body politic

  • Marianne Thamm
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa
Photo: South Africa's Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan speaks to President Jacob Zuma (R) during closing remarks during the 5th BRICS Summit in Durban, March 27, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward.

The use and abuse of state intelligence capacities to fight political battles instead of combatting organised crime are highlighted in two separate stories making headlines. The first is the DA's review application to the North Gauteng High Court with regard to what has become known as the “Zuma spy tapes saga”. The second is a reference in the Hawks “letter” to Pravin Gordhan about “Project Sunday Evenings”, another allegedly covert operation aimed at spying on the NPA which was, at the time, investigating Jackie Selebi. Unsurprisingly, Jacob Zuma looms large in both sagas. By MARIANNE THAMM.

Trigger warning: loads of smoke and mirrors, cloaks and daggers, recurring actors and one particular actor in the leading role.

Around 2000, former crime intelligence head, Mulani Mphego, authorised “Operation Destroy Lucifer”, a clandestine but apparently official police investigation (initiated by Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi) targeting then Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy and NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka. At the time the Scorpions were investigating Selebi and his links to organised crime networks in South Africa.

One of the aims of the operation was to determine just how much information the DSO had on the police chief, whether underworld figure Glenn Agliotti, a key witness in the case, could be turned, and to intervene in the then battle between the DA and the ANC in the Western Cape.

An inadvertent perk of “Operation Lucifer”, however, was that part of these interceptions were later leaked to Michael Hulley, Jacob Zuma's lawyer, and which later led to the withdrawal of 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against Jacob Zuma in 2009, clearing his path to the presidency.

It is this decision by the then acting head of the NPA, Moketedi Mpshe, that the DA has spent years challenging in various courts at the cost of around R10-million and that will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court today (Tuesday).

The Presidency has, in the meantime, issued a statement that the proceedings “are an abuse of process by a political party in order to advance a political agenda.

Through his submissions to the High Court, President Zuma will maintain that the decision of the NDPP was rationally derived at, as evidenced by the reasons advanced and accordingly, will withstand any scrutiny,” said the President’s spokesperson Bongani Majola.

A few dramas unfolded in between these events, including the arrest in January 2008 of Gerrie Nel, who was tasked with investigating Selebi's case. Nel was arrested outside his home by 20 armed police after Nomgcobo Jiba (current Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions), with crime intelligence head Richard Mduli, had helped police to secure Nel's warrant of arrest.

Jiba was suspended in November 2007 prior to Nel's arrest and for her role in securing the warrant, but proceedings were later abandoned by Mpshe, leading to her installation now, by President Jacob Zuma, as National Director of Public Prosecutions.

Nel had also investigated Jiba’s husband, Booker Nhantsi, a lawyer, who was found guilty and convicted in 2010 of stealing a client's money from a trust fund. President Jacob Zuma expunged Nhantsi’s record in 2012.

Hold that thought.

In 2007 Vusi Pikoli was now the head of the NPA, which is still investigating Selebi. This is the year that two former SARS officials, Helgard Lombard and Johan de Waal, allege that SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay authorised “Operation Sunday Evenings” to spy on Pikoli and other NPA members.

The two men also accused Nel and senior Scorpions investigator Andrew Leask of paying R900,000 for equipment used to bug the NPA offices in an attempt to thwart infiltration by elements in crime intelligence seeking to scupper the Selebi case.

Confused? That’s the point.

The list of 27 questions the Hawks dispatched to Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan a few days before he delivered his budget speech makes reference to “Project Sundays” and asks Gordhan; “Do you know anything about operation code named “Sunday Evenings?” The bugging or installation of sophisticated surveillance equipment the NPA Offices? Who authorised it, is this in line with SARS mandate? What was its objective and targets?”

But here’s the thing, Lombard was not a member of the SARS National Research Group (NRG), as the investigative unit was known. Instead he was the Technical Manager of another SARS unit, the Anti-corruption and Security Unit, which investigated its SARS officials suspected of corruption. This unit was formerly headed by Clifford Collings.

Lombard is named in a Wikileaks document related to his attempts at procuring illegal surveillance equipment from Hacking Team, which sells “offensive intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments, law enforcement agencies and corporations”.

Much of the confusion surrounding the NRG originates in an “intelligence dossier” complied by a discredited former SARS employee, Michael Peega, who was a special investigator with the NRG until he was caught rhino poaching while on leave in 2008. Peega was found guilty of gross misconduct and fired but his “dossier” eventually found its way to Julius Malema, as well as the Sunday Times.

This is only a tiny sliver of the complex and tangled web that has been woven since Jacob Zuma took control of the ANC in 2007 and the President's office in 2009 and it stretches back even earlier.

With the unexpected return of Gordhan to his former position as Finance Minister after Zuma’s firing of Nhlanla Nene in December, a boil on the national political landscape that has been festering for years has been lanced.

The muck that has been circulating and that has infected several state institutions – SARS, the NPA, the Hawks, SAA and SAPS – that have been captured, is now beginning to spill into the country’s body politic.

There is a cast of hundreds who have been drawn into the tawdry mess in their haste to defend and protect various powerful politicians and “businessmen” who have flown and still fly close to the seat of power.

Events unfurling in the Constitutional Court, which is due to give a ruling soon on the Nkandla matter, and now the DA's review in the North Gauteng High Court, are bound to pit the country’s judiciary against the executive and Parliament.

This is a critical moment in South Africa’s post-apartheid history, and one, depending on the outcome, that will set the course for our future for the next few years. Buckle up for a bumpy and nasty ride. DM

Photo: South Africa's Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan speaks to President Jacob Zuma (R) during closing remarks during the 5th BRICS Summit in Durban, March 27, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward.

  • Marianne Thamm
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa

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