If you were wondering why former State Security Agency (SSA) director-general Arthur Fraser in July 2020 sought “indemnity” should he be forced to testify at the Zondo Commission, the current SSA Acting Director-General, Loyiso Jafta, on Tuesday provided more than enough hints.
At the commission, on the second day of hearings related to the findings of the High-Level Review Panel into the SSA, transgressions of such magnitude and criminality were touched on, it is little wonder Fraser has the jitters.
And while the government had managed to recover some of the stolen funds, the rest had been flushed down the plughole to sustain and protect Jacob Zuma’s decade-long “regime”.
Some of the transgressions occurred, of course, before Fraser was appointed by Zuma in 2016, but nonetheless, the commission heard of startling amounts of cash carted out of the SSA headquarters in Pretoria, particularly in December 2017.
This was the same month as the life-and-death battle for the soul and leadership of the ANC was fought at its 54th elective conference at Nasrec.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, reading aloud from Jafta’s statement on Tuesday, began listing amounts allocated to “operations” by the SSA during that period.
“R19 million, date given 15 December 2017. Then it says ‘collected R5- million’, R1.9-million, R900,000, R360,000. 18 December, R2.5-million, R2-million, R2.4-million, R1-million, R13,000, R1.3-million… cash just gets dished out!” Zondo looked up from the horror show.
At which point Jafta said that, over and above this, R9-billion in fixed assets were not to be found and that R125-million could not be accounted for in the 2017/18 financial year.
“That is a lot of money,” said Zondo. “How could a government department not be able to account for R9-billion? With R9-billion, imagine what you can do for people.”
On Monday the commission heard from Dr Sydney Mufamadi, chair of the High-Level Review Panel.
Mufamadi said that evidence had been provided that Zuma’s minister of state security, David Mahlobo (appointed in 2016), had signed receipts for around R80-million in cash, doled out between 2015 and 2017, collected from the SSA, and allegedly destined for Zuma’s use either personally or politically.
Mufamadi said the cash trail had gone cold with Mahlobo, who is still gainfully employed by the SA government as deputy minister of human settlements, water and sanitation, and there was no concrete evidence that the money had been passed to Zuma.
Proceedings began on Tuesday with a statement by advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, appearing on behalf of the Minister of State Security, Ayanda Dlodlo, who said the minister was apprehensive that evidence to be heard might compromise “national security.”
Commission evidence leader Paul Pretorius countered that Jafta, in consultation with the commission, had given assurances that the “legitimate interests of state security will be protected”.
References to foreign countries and the identities of operatives had been redacted, said Pretorius, and he was sure Dlodlo did not wish for “evidence of criminality not being presented”.
Zondo overruled the objection.
Jafta told the commission that since his acting appointment he had “followed the money” and that this “does not lie”.
He told the commission that a number of officials in the SSA had been listed on the register of debtors who owed the SSA “fairly large amounts of money, often running into millions”.
Upon investigation it became apparent, Jafta told Zondo, that “systems of corporate governance were done parallel to the prescripts that were there”.
Money was being spent, he added, on projects outside the boundaries of the SSA’s legal mandate.
“Creative ways were conjured up around the Constitution in order to do things that were unlawful and outside the Constitution.”
The system was circumvented by agents or operatives being provided with a “TA” or temporary advance, which would then facilitate the release of millions for projects based only on the flimsiest and vaguest of “certificates”.
Many of the operations had been coordinated and carried out by the office of the DG with no oversight and with direct involvement by Mahlobo.
Outside operatives had been brought into the sensitive SSA fold utilising an unlawful “drive-though” vetting service that would see an individual issued with clearance in just three days, added Jafta.
Nowhere is it anticipated in our Constitution that intelligence would be employed to influence the judiciary… in fact SSA should be alerting the judiciary.
“The proper approach has always been that you cost a project as you build the foundation, then you tender an invoice and if approved we give the money. You just don’t walk out of the gate with R10-million and you have no control.”
Jafta said there was no doubt that “there are moneys that left the agency for the purposes of funding political activity principally within the ANC, and intended to drill into the credibility of those who were not in the faction within the ANC”.
Projects intended to “enhance the political fortunes of the ANC” were also embarked on by the SSA during election periods.
The systemic weaknesses in the SSA, said Jafta, were present in other government spheres during Zuma’s tenure, including SOEs where an accounting officer might be “biased to achieving goals” and in doing so “might overlook certain requirements with regard to compliance regulations”.
Jafta said over and above this there was clear evidence of executive overreach and that “manifestly unlawful or illegal instructions” had been carried out by the SSA.
During the period under review, 2009 to early 2018, “There is a very strong body of evidence and circumstantial evidence where members of the national executive, at least ministers, regularly ran operations.
“That would mean that they would handle sources, they tasked them, they debriefed them, they generated reports possibly to advise themselves, the president or their colleagues,” said Jafta.
The SSA’s unlawful activities had spilt over into civil society and the trade union movement with the establishment of a bogus union, the Workers Association Union, to rival Amcu in the platinum belt.
With regard to Project Justice, an alleged operation aimed at influencing the judiciary, Jafta said, “You have to assume that the judiciary was a target for intelligence operations and that could only be political.”
The commission heard from Jafta that there was circumstantial evidence of one judge having accepted a bribe to rule in favour of Zuma.
“Nowhere is it anticipated in our Constitution that intelligence would be employed to influence the judiciary… in fact SSA should be alerting the judiciary,” said Jafta.
Jafta said that the problem with the SSA was not that there was an absence of rules, but “an evasion of rules”.
The commission also heard on Tuesday that former first lady Nompumelelo Ntuli had possibly been held “against her will” in a R5-million safe house Mahlobo had secured in “Operation Tin Roof”.
The matter was investigated by the SSA and, “in essence then, Mrs Zuma was put into the custody of the SSA. She was kept against her will,” said Jafta.
“That would be quite serious,” responded Zondo.
Jafta said it had been difficult to determine “with absolute certainty” that Zuma had given this instruction.
It had happened in the past that “functionaries” would “anticipate” what would please a leader “and take such initiatives regardless of what the law says”.
Oversight of the SSA by Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) was weak, if not non-existent, the commission heard for the second day.
Jafta attributed this to a lack of resources by committee members as well as a lack of understanding of the complexities of the intelligence world. The SSA had for three years failed to submit its annual report, with no consequences.
When Jafta had tried to engage committee members, the current crop said they were new and had no institutional memory. Pretorius highlighted that the chair of the JSCI had been changed thrice since 2014, rendering the committee rudderless.
This had essentially transformed the SSA into a giant ATM with no pin code for those who controlled it and worked within its shadowy orbit.
Any operations within the ruling party “would inevitably lead to the SSA undertaking a project whereby they would conduct operations against other members of the ANC. That would be about political intelligence within the ANC,” said Jafta.
National security, said Jafta, had been compromised by the notion of state security and a coagulation of power around Zuma.
Back in July, lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane informed Zondo that his client, Fraser, was the only “implicated person” called who had been accused of “treason” but that his evidence, when given, “will complete the picture for the chair about secrets of this state, about who exactly is subverting our state”. DM