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Cash ‘parcels’ to minister, spying on media and inf...

South Africa

The Real Rogue Unit

Cash ‘parcels’ to minister, spying on media and infiltration of anti-Zuma movement highlighted in report on SA spy agency

Former State Security Minister David Mahlobo is seen in conversation with President Jacob Zuma at the final session of the ANC's National Policy Conference which was held at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE

The long-awaited high-level review panel report on the activities of the State Security Agency (SSA) highlights a plethora of alleged rogue intelligence operations driven by South Africa’s spy agency and its controversial Special Operations (SO) unit.

Released by the government late on Saturday afternoon, the high-level review panel report on the activities of the State Security Agency (SSA) found that the agency’s Special Operations (SO) unit had become “a law unto itself”, especially after President Jacob Zuma moved key personnel to the SSA.

The report includes the following explosive findings on the SSA and its SO unit’s allegedly rogue operations:

  • The SO unit had infiltrated and influenced South Africa’s media to “counter bad publicity for the country, the then president [Zuma] and the SSA”;
  • In 2016, the SO unit involved itself in clandestine operations that were clearly intended to derail the political campaigns of Zuma’s opponents within the ANC and to disrupt the broader anti-Zuma movement. “During the 2016 ANC January 8 statement in Rustenburg, the unit ‘initiated 3 countering operations to impede the distribution of CR17 regalia [and] impede [the] transportation system of dissident groups from GP [Gauteng],’” the panel found, quoting from a document the SO unit had compiled to highlight its “achievements” in the 2016/2017 financial year; and
  • The report on the SO unit’s “achievements” also made reference to its infiltration of a planned march against Zuma at Parliament in Cape Town in 2016 before that year’s State of the Nation Address (SOPA). The SO unit was “able to infiltrate and penetrate the leadership structure” of the anti-Zuma movement. The clandestine unit also distributed “disinformation” to members of the anti-Zuma movement. According to the report, the SO unit’s intervention ensured that far fewer protestors ended up joining the demonstration.

The report also highlights serious financial misconduct at the SSA and the SO unit, especially regarding the use of covert funds. “Due to wide-ranging resource abuse, the SSA became in effect a ‘cash cow’ for many of its members and external stakeholders,” reads the report.

Most distressingly, the alleged abuse of resources possibly benefitted senior government officials and even ministers in Zuma’s then cabinet.

There was more than enough information before the Panel that the then Minister [of State Security], in particular, involved himself directly in [SSA] operations. The Panel interviewed one member of [the] SSA who had previously served in the Minister’s office during his time as Minister of State Security, who confirmed to the Panel that he had, from time to time, been asked by a member of SO to pass parcels containing cash to the Minister,” according to the report.

The panel did not explicitly state which of Zuma’s state security ministers was being referred to. Siyabonga Cwele and David Mahlobo both served as State Security ministers at different times in Zuma’s administration.

The review panel also looked at a few of the SSA’s dubious dealings that had been exposed by investigative journalists in recent years.

The SO unit’s role in the establishment of a fake labour union, the Workers Association Union (WAU), receives brief mention. “The Panel also heard testimony and was provided with legal papers about a union that was established with the support of the SO Unit of the SSA (the Workers’ Association Union) ostensibly to neutralise the instability in the platinum belt. The Panel also heard testimony from the IGI [Inspector General of Intelligence] about the SSA having put under surveillance unions that were critical of the then President,” reads the report.

The Principal Agent Network (PAN), which features in investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers, comes under fire in the review panel report. “It appeared to the Panel there had been instances of serious criminal behaviour which had taken place under the guise of conducting covert work and that this behaviour may have involved theft, forgery and uttering, fraud, corruption, and even bordered on organised crime and transgressions of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA),” the panel found with regards to the PAN’s activities.

The wide-ranging problems at the SSA and especially at the SO unit could at least be partly blamed on “growing politicisation” and factionalism within the “civilian intelligence community”. This was linked to the widening divisions within the ruling ANC that began to take shape circa 2005, the report found.

This became progressively worse during the administration of the former President, with parallel structures being created that directly served the personal and political interests of the President and, in some cases, the relevant ministers. All this was in complete breach of the Constitution, the White Paper, the legislation and other prescripts,” the report states. DM

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