The senior member of the SSA also provided evidence of how director general Arthur Fraser had embarked on an illegal “realignment process” of the agency as part of a “vision for 2035”.
In the process, he froze out senior staff and appointed junior members as well as deputy directors general without approval from the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence.
Codenamed “Steven”, the former MK operative who was integrated into the intelligence services in 1995, brought first-hand knowledge of a Special Operations project that had “gone wrong”, requiring R6-million to “buy the silence” of an agent who had personally met with and secretly taped former president Jacob Zuma.
The SSA and Zuma had tasked the agent with setting up a miners’ union to rival the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) in the volatile platinum belt.
“Steven”, whose identity and former senior position at the SSA may not be disclosed, was one of the few lucid witnesses at the intelligence coalface to testify at the Zondo Commission.
Further evidence to the commission on Thursday of Mahlobo’s direct ministerial creep into operations included the 2015 SONA “jammer” scandal at parliament.
The official said that after the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) had taken the minister and the SSA to court, Mahlobo had personally summoned him to his official residence in Pretoria.
There he had met with two men, one white, one black, whom Mahlobo had claimed were judges. The operative said he did not later recall the faces of the judges but noted that the black judge was “dark and short”. He was unable to recall any specific features of the white judge.
He was told by Mahlobo that these judges would be able to influence their colleagues at the Western Cape High Court, where the matter was being heard.
Mahlobo, said Steven, had instructed him to travel to Cape Town to help the legal team with “technicalities” of the signal jamming equipment.
“We won the case in the first round; there were two concurring and one dissenting judge,” said Steven.
It was Judge Kate Savage who had differed from Judges Daniel Dlodlo and Robert Henny, and who found that the use of the signal jammer had been illegal and unconstitutional. The ruling in favour of the minister was later overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Steven revealed how SSA staff were victimised after they had been frozen out by Fraser, with one senior member finding his office flooded with no detectable source of the leak.
He, himself, had been sidelined and marooned but had continued to go into the SSA offices for two years, receiving a salary, bonus and cell phone costs for “doing nothing”.
“My phone did not ring.”
The operative set out several other projects directed by Mahlobo which had turned out to be bogus. In one instance, Mahlobo had asked Steven to “pat someone” with R400,000.
On the day of the drop-off, Steven had arranged for cover from a colleague. The two had waited for the “source” to do the pick-up.
“I called this person saying we were there but nothing happened… he just laughed at me.”
Mahlobo had also sanctioned special ops’ head Thulani Dlomo’s “Project Greenleaf”, a mission to spy on senior SSA officials, SANDF generals, Jacob Zuma, ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile and Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.
Staff had confronted then SSA DG Sonto Kudjoe and she, in turn, had summoned Mahlobo. The minister, said Steven, instead of dealing with the matter, had threatened the SSA officials.
Steven said he had refused to sign off on a R12-million requisition for cash, but this was later approved when an official, in whose position he was acting, “was pressured to sign”.
“I advised him not to sign anything that involves such huge amounts of money,” said Steven.
He said he had personally seen “Frank”, another witness, packing the cash into a car at SSA headquarters. Steven said he had come to learn of Mahlobo’s personal projects when the minister had visited the SSA to push for money for these projects.
“At that time, Special Ops had depleted its budget,” he said.
Frank, who has testified before and who testified later on Thursday, had told Steven that he had regularly taken money to Mahlobo. Another operation for which Mahlobo had demanded money was a monthly R120,000 “for the protection” of an asset.
“But we are audited. What am I going to say when the auditors come and when they ask about these monies? I have no details, just the person’s name and his signature,” he said.
Steven said he had conducted counter-surveillance and observed this person going about his life normally and that there was no threat to his life. He had reported this to Mahlobo as well as “to my former DG” to have the payments stopped.
With regard to the meeting between Zuma and Mahlobo with the agent tasked with setting up a rival union, Steven said, “I wondered why are executive members playing a role in operations. This was a classic, poorly planned operation.”
This “asset”, said Steven, “had been paid large sums of money”.
In a late-night session on Wednesday, Mahlobo had accused Steven of being “a peddler” of information. Evidence leader Paul Pretorius asked Steven his views on this.
Steven said the definition of a “peddler” was someone who passed on false information for payment to the agency. This type of information was usually from a single source and cannot be confirmed. SSA officials would end up “chasing shadows” with regard to this type of intel.
As a long-term and senior employee of the SSA, Steven said he could not be considered a peddler. Indeed, on Thursday Pretorius confronted Mahlobo with whether he had reported Steven or disciplined him for being a “peddler”, which is an offence.
While Mahlobo was not expecting the question, he replied emphatically that Steven had faced a disciplinary hearing at the minister’s request.
Steven said he had never faced a disciplinary and in fact still worked at the agency.
“If Mr Mahlobo is saying that members of the agency were surrounded by peddlers, that would make sense, but in my case that is not so,” he said.
Steve said he had, in his career, briefed many “senior people in the country”.
He highlighted that Mahlobo had instructed him to pay various “assets”, yet “I only become a peddler when I talk about judges”.
He said any allegation or notion that he was part of “a faction” could not be proven as he was not a card-carrying member of the ANC, having given this up in 1995.
“I have never taken part in the political work of the ANC.”
Steven pleaded with the commision to note that the SSA could only work “if the president exercises his prerogative or takes political control”, cauterising the agency from the interference of ministers.
“Each minister who comes, comes with their political agenda and they cause a lot of problems for the agency. That is not helpful to taxpayers. Maybe we must not have a minister until our problems are sorted out.”
He added that the recommendations of the High Level Panel Review into the State Security Agency had not been implemented.
“If there is a process, it does not involve senior members. Things need to get done so we can get back to our glory days,” said Steven
The commission continues to hear SSA testimony. DM