DAYS OF ZONDO

Commission hears of alleged covert ops in media, judiciary, civil society, academia and unions, costing taxpayers ‘hundreds of millions’

By Marianne Thamm 26 January 2021

Former chairperson of the High-Level Review Dr Sydney Mufamadi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Taxpayers lost hundreds of millions to fraud and corruption “bordering on organised crime” in a series of covert State Security Agency (SSA) projects aimed at protecting and promoting the political and personal interests of former President Jacob Zuma, the Zondo Commision of Inquiry into State Capture heard on Monday from Sydney Mufamadi, the Chair of the High-Level Review Panel review into the State Security Agency.

Marianne Thamm

This included Project Commitment, which allegedly saw for Zuma a windfall of at least R80-million in off-the-books cash, allegedly collected monthly between 2015 and 2017 from the SSA by a runner dispatched by Minister of State Security David Mahlobo.

The commission heard that Zuma received R2.5-million in cash per month during the 2015/16 financial year, which increased to R4.5-million per month during 2016/17. And while Mahlobo had acknowledged receipt of these funds, the commission was told that there was no evidence that the money had found its way to Zuma.

However, Mahlobo, in clear breach of the principle of the separation of powers, was also fingered by witnesses, said Mufamadi, as the member of Zuma’s executive to whom Thulani Dlomo, head of the covert and unlawful Special Operations Unit (SOU) reported, circumventing SSA management. It was clear to the panel, alleged Mufamadi, that Dlomo’s unit “was a law unto itself”.

SOU recruits had refused to report to management and when members interviewed by the panel were quizzed, many responded that they reported and accounted to “the executive”.

Dlomo, the commission heard, had been an uncooperative witness when interviewed by the panel and had invoked the “need-to-know” defence.

“He did not understand that this is a panel established by the president and you cannot be an operative of a state organ and when the state wants to do some introspection in an area where you are operating you invoke the need-to-know basis. It is as if you are doing this for yourself.”

Mufamadi said that the panel had found that “special ops” appeared to have been a “catch-all phrase for certain things to be done by SSA which do not fall within the remit of SSA”.

It was Mahlobo who not only brought news to the former president that his wife MaNtuli had allegedly poisoned him, but who also later secured R5-million from the SSA for Project Tin Roof.

This was for the alleged procurement of a “safe house” for the president’s now excommunicated wife and children. Further monthly withdrawals of R800,000 a month were also made, allegedly to assist the first lady.

Interestingly, in an interview with Karyn Maughan and Newzroom Afrika in 2019, MaNtuli said she had been summarily turfed out of Nkandla after Mahlobo had visited her husband and had been penniless and homeless ever since. 

The allegations beg the question of whether the first lady misrepresented her financial situation during the interview or whether the money destined for her upkeep ever got to her. All will be revealed, no doubt.

Further allegations by Mufamadi were that the establishment of Sekunjalo director Iqbal Survé’s African News Agency in 2015 was a State Security Agency covert operation and project front.

Titled Project Wave, the operation, said Mufamadi, was aimed at “countering negative local and international perceptions of the country, Zuma and the SSA”. 

The cost of setting up the covert media project, which Zondo opined had been unnecessary as the government had its own communications operations, were not disclosed.

While Project Justice was a “ruse to access state resources”, said Mufamadi, its alleged stated aim at the time had been to “recruit and handle” sources in the judiciary “in order to influence the outcome of cases against President Zuma”.

For the first time on Monday, evidence contained in now declassified sections of the 2018 High-Level Panel Review Report into the State Security Agency laid bare how apparently unlimited access to funds propped up and funded various arms of Zuma’s “shadow state” during his tenure.

The commission heard how the SSA VIP protection project had an annual budget of R24-million to train agents not only to act as an advance force for Zuma during his international travels, but also as protection for individuals who were not entitled to this. Besides, it was the SA Police Services or the National Intelligence Agency that should have been seized with matters of personal security and not the SSA, said Mufamadi.

Those who allegedly benefited were SAA board chair Dudu Myeni, ANC Youth League leader Collen Maine and the then head of the DPCI (the Hawks), General Yolisa Matakata.

After Zuma’s “poisoning” scares, the SSA had brought in toxicologists to test Zuma’s bedding and food at an initial cost of R500,000 a month. This soon escalated to R1.5-million, the commission was told.

Over and above this, the SSA’s role behind the establishment of a bogus union, the Workers Association Union (WAU), at Lonmin in 2014 to spy on Cosatu’s rival union, Amcu, was also set out.

One of the founding members of the WAU, Thebe Maswabi, has claimed that he personally met Zuma in September 2013. Maswabi sued the president and various departments in a civil matter for R114-million in 2016. 

The matter was settled out of court, which Mufamadi told the Zondo Commission was regrettable, as the “veil of secrecy” surrounding the project had been kept intact.

The tentacles of Zuma’s shadow state, the commission heard, reached all levels of society and targeted the “Fees Must Fall Movement” in Project Academia and organisations representing civil society such as Right2Know, the #Zumamustfall “movement” and Casac.

At least 10 legal representatives were present at the hearing on Monday representing several implicated heavyweights, including former state security ministers Siyabonga Cwele, Mahlobo and Bongani Bongo. Also represented were former SSA DG Arthur Fraser, Principal Agent Network (PAN) manager Graham Engel and Covert Support Unit manager Prince Makhwathana.

Mufamadi, during the proceedings, made several statements welcoming the lifting of the iron curtain that has surrounded the SSA for years and had even shut out the Auditor-General.

Mufamadi began his testimony setting out that the start of a return to an “apartheid-era warrior state” mentality had begun with then-president Zuma’s proclamation in 2009 amalgamating the NIA and the South African Secret Service into one body, the SSA.

This, said Mufamadi, had rekindled the meaning of state security. The post-1994 intelligence world, he said, as a result of the end of the Cold War, had called for intelligence agencies to protect the citizens of the country and not political factions.

“State security has ominous connotations; it is anti-democratic. As a country, we cannot suddenly have forgotten where we have come from before 1994 where we have intelligence that serves war techniques.”

He said Zuma’s proclamation, “besides usurping the role of the legislature”, created a situation “which once more ran the risk of bringing the security establishment back into the cockpit of our political system with the possibility to rechoreograph the theatre of wrong deeds that we saw in the past through either political partiality or the weaponisation of the intelligence community for purposes other than those which the agency existed for”.

The proclamation, he added, had been unconstitutional and Parliament had been “fast asleep”. In the four years that it took the National Assembly to rubber-stamp the proclamation, the SSA had embarked on various projects of dubious intent.

However, it was difficult, he said, to determine whether the proclamation by Zuma had been an act of wrongdoing.

“But it would be difficult to argue that there is no causal link between the two.”

Mufamadi added that he found it “astounding, and I am speaking on my personal behalf and the panel’s, that we do not appear to be ready to part company with the obsession with secrecy – undue secrecy.

“If you can have unconstitutionality persist for so long, a usurpation of parliamentary power, and we pay the price that I think we paid as a nation, then we must ask, why was Parliament sleepwalking? 

“If we are not safe in the hands of a body as important as that, I am sorry.”

Zondo evidence leader Paul Pretorius said that testimony about the SSA would show that “in relation to law enforcement, their inaction contributed a great deal of what occurred and that is one of the reasons why it happened”.

This fed directly to the heart of State Capture, he said.

The SSA had embarked on projects in contravention of constitutional principles “and to appropriate resources to favour factional political interests and other beneficiaries who are not entitled”.

Mufamadi, during the proceedings, made several statements welcoming the lifting of the iron curtain that has surrounded the SSA for years and had even shut out the Auditor-General.

This was while it was unable and unwilling to account for hundreds of millions of rands stolen from the public and used criminally.

“It is important that some of the sacred cows are no longer sacred, and one can take some solace in that,” he told Zondo.

In his concluding statement, Mufamadi said, “I think we are lucky that we still have what I call a residue of the will to introspect on the part of the powers that be.”

In a side-wipe or perhaps warning shot to Parliament, he stated, “The legislative branch has no right to lower its guard.”

The executive also could not “just sit back and watch whether self-correction happens”. 

Civil society too should decide on its role in helping the state “to self-correct” said Mufamadi.

“Which is why I thought that it would have been the right thing to do for members of the public to say, there is the Zondo Commission, it is having this hearing. 

“We are happy that it is being aired in public because it is when we become obsessed with secrecy that we disempower our people from playing the role they must play to project their own dispensation, which came at a heavy price. It is a price that those of us who know how it was paid, do not want our democracy to be taken for granted.” DM

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  • On 14 January, you reported that “A top UN advisor will come home to bolster Shamila Batohi’s deputy directorate, while new special prosecutors have been named to fight the war on white-collar crime and deepen the skills base to prosecute those involved in State Capture”
    Imagine if those special prosecutors really applied their minds to Mufamadi’s testimony – but we shall all die waiting for Batohi to get off the gravy train and do her job!

    • And they never will. Just so typical – never will it be acknowledged by the anc that they (Including cr and his cronies) are useless and allowed zuma and his ilk to wreck this country.

  • Wow ! Imagine if we could believe that all this damning information would actually lead to some orange overalls ? Zuma will never face justice, be sure of that.

  • The rot runs so very deep – what next? The SA public is so punch-drunk with mammoth and out of control corruption and more revelations keep coming out!! I know it is stating the exceptionally obvious – as a country, we are in such really bad and deep trouble. It is so desperate, disheartening and crippling! And yet none of these kingpins and cronies have been brought to book and sent to prison. The sense of helplessness and despair is overwhelming at times.

  • Love the way Ms Thamm just says it: ‘Further allegations by Mufamadi were that the establishment of Sekunjalo director Iqbal Survé’s African News Agency in 2015 was a State Security Agency covert operation and project front’.

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