South Africa


Confirmed: Zuma’s spooks spied on SaveSA

Confirmed: Zuma’s spooks spied on SaveSA
Former president Jacob Zuma is seen at the Johannesburg Commercial Crimes Court. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

It’s not really surprising to find out that the state’s intelligence machinery spent a fair amount of time between 2016 and 2018 illegally monitoring civil society organisations like Save South Africa, Casac and Right2Know.

Although we were doing nothing illegal, we were aware that state intelligence had its eye on our organisation, Save South Africa, as part of its – illegal – attempts to prop up disgraced former president Jacob Zuma. And that they were prepared to bend – even break – the rules to try to keep him in power.

There was no lack of evidence of attempts to subvert our activities, whether it was physical attacks on our members (for example at our Church Square, Pretoria, rally in April 2017), the intimidation of some of the campaign leaders, attempts to subvert our gatherings (for example, the People’s SONA in Cape Town in February 2017), or the constant cyberattacks on our website and IT infrastructure every time we organised an event.

Now, thanks to the high-level panel review of South Africa’s intelligence agency – whose report was published by the Presidency over the weekend – we know who was behind it all.

And if you join the dots, they all lead back to one person: Zuma.

According to the panel, elements of the State Security Agency (SSA) were repurposed during Zuma’s term and used to fight factional ANC political battles. Much of this work was done by a Special Operations unit which, among other things, spied on civil society organisations.

In its report, the panel said Special Operations had boasted of its success in “active monitoring of South Africa First, Right 2 Know, SaveSA, Casac and Greenpeace (which) was done due to the penetration ability of the group”.

The panel found that the Special Operations unit was key to the “politicisation” of intelligence that took place under the leadership of Zuma, saying:

It is clear that the SSA’s Special Operations unit … was a law unto itself and directly served the political interests of the Executive. It also undertook intelligence operations which were clearly unconstitutional and illegal.

It is clear that Special Operations had become a parallel intelligence structure serving a faction of the ruling party and, in particular, the political interests of the sitting president,” the panel said.

This is in direct breach of the Constitution, the White Paper (on Intelligence), the relevant legislation and plain good governance intelligence functioning.”

For those who were involved in the Save South Africa campaign at the time, these findings confirm that instead of focusing on real threats to the nation’s security, the former President’s spies were actively trying to destabilise legal, law-abiding organisations which respected the Constitution, were totally legitimate and had South Africa’s interests at heart.

As a result, there is no other way to see Special Operations than as a rogue intelligence unit. It was trying to prop up Zuma at a time when there was a growing societal and political realisation that he, himself, was the greatest threat to our sovereignty because of his nefarious relationships with the Gupta family and the State Capture project.

Those of us who were actively involved in the struggle against apartheid cannot help but draw comparisons with elements like the Civil Co-operation Bureau and similar dirty tricks operations run by the apartheid regime – such as infiltrating activist groups, spying on journalists and using dirty money.

Now, it’s up to the law enforcement agencies to urgently process the panel’s findings into criminal dockets – starting with Zuma and extending to all political and administration leaders who are implicated in the panel’s report.

After all, Zuma is a serial violator of his own country’s Constitution – and although he is no longer in office he must still be held accountable for every single wrong he has committed.

It’s equally important that the current intelligence leadership urgently provides more detail on the Special Operations unit, including who was in its leadership and who its operatives were, and to confirm that it is no longer in operation.

The Special Operations agents have been found by a Presidential panel to have committed illegal activities. They must be identified so that they can be pursued through the courts. They should not enjoy any privilege, protection or anonymity. We have a right to know who the spies are – as well as their handlers. DM

Pityana was convenor of the SaveSA campaign, which was launched in November 2016 to mobilise civil society support against Zuma and others involved in state capture. The campaign was dissolved in March 2018, soon after Zuma was deposed as president.


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