DAYS OF ZONDO, PART FIVE
How Jacob Zuma’s spies trampled on national security and citizens’ rights to change SA’s trajectory
Missing ‘weapons of war’, fake intelligence reports and copious cover-ups – the tools to try to dismantle democracy are revealed in Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s final report into State Capture.
Dirty spy work has left deeply unsettling questions about the lasting damage state figures caused when they eroded citizens’ security – including ignoring stringent checks and dishing out State Security Agency (SSA) firearms and ammunition, some of which are still missing.
A close look of what is contained in State Capturers’ toolboxes, and how dodgy spooks basically had free rein, is provided in Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s final report into State Capture.
The long-anticipated document pieces together how, over several years, noxious intelligence operations paired with crooked government officials repeatedly trampled on national security and residents’ rights, changing SA’s trajectory.
This week, asked for comment about some findings in the report, Police Minister Bheki Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, told DM168 Cele would be studying it.
The Hawks also said it was too early to comment on it.
Zondo’s final report, which concluded after more than four years of intense work, was handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa and publicly released late on 22 June.
It criticises and implicates a number of individuals, including former president Jacob Zuma, his son Duduzane Zuma and figures in the intelligence arena – including former state security minister David Mahlobo and, most notably, former security agency head Arthur Fraser.
Fraser was the SSA’s director-general between September 2016 and April 2018.
Ramaphosa vs Fraser
On 1 June, exactly three weeks before Zondo released his latest report, the former spy boss lodged a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa in a saga now known as Farmgate.
The timing of Fraser lodging the complaint with police was curious because it related to a robbery at Ramaphosa’s game farm in Limpopo that happened back in February 2020.
Fraser alleged that Ramaphosa “concealed the crime” – during which millions of dollars were apparently stolen – from the police and the taxman.
The 1 June public announcement that Fraser approached the cops about Ramaphosa could be viewed as a pre-emptive manoeuvre on Fraser’s part to perhaps cast doubt on Ramaphosa’s character and Zondo’s findings.
It can also be viewed in the context of Fraser being aligned with the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation faction that wants to unseat Ramaphosa as ANC president.
In Zondo’s final report, he recommended that law enforcement should investigate Fraser, as well as Mahlobo, in relation to “the withdrawal, handling and distribution of [the] SSA’s money”.
A witness previously told the commission that, between 2012 and 2018, an estimated R1.5-billion was unaccounted for.
Zondo also recommended that the Hawks resume investigations into other possible criminal conduct relating to Fraser. This means that, if Fraser is not already under investigation, but becomes the focus of investigators, he has ensured that Ramaphosa is in a similar situation.
Weapons of war
Aside from delving into poor vetting procedures in the SSA and how masses of money moved around the spy arena without proper scrutiny, one of the more chilling aspects of Zondo’s extensive report is that some firearms dished out from the SSA are yet to be traced.
This scandal points towards the nexus between government and organised crime and adds yet another layer to a massive problem in SA – that of state firearms ending up in the hands of criminals.
The scourge of police officers smuggling firearms to criminals, a dangerous decades-old arena in which cops find themselves investigating colleagues, has been highlighted several times in Parliament this year.
Daily Maverick has previously reported that, in SA’s gangsterism capital, the Western Cape, between 2010 and 2016, firearms smuggled from police officers to gangsters had been used in 1,666 murders and 1,403 attempted murders.
At least 261 children were shot.
Not all the smuggled firearms were recovered, so that figure may well be higher now.
In Zondo’s final report, he recommended that gun controls in the SSA be strengthened.
“The country currently has a problem with the illegal possession and use of firearms … The emphasis of intelligence services should not be on the security of the state (state security) but on the interests of the citizens (national security). The wanton distribution of SSA weapons by the SSA undermines its very core function to ensure the security of the citizens,” he said.
“The process of the issuance of firearms out of the SSA armoury needs to be tightened up, bearing in mind that even rifles and machine guns were used. These are weapons of war.”
Zondo’s recommendations came about because of what transpired at the SSA a few years ago.
Evidence heard during the commission included that, in late 2014 and early 2015, the chief directorate of special operations started requesting firearms from the SSA’s armoury.
Glocks, pistols, submachine guns
Thulani Dlomo, a former ambassador to Japan who is known as a spy aligned to Zuma, requested firearms from a figure linked to the SSA’s armoury simply identified as “Johan”.
Based on Dlomo’s request, 39 firearms were issued.
This included 11 R4 rifles, 10 CZ 75 pistols, four Glock 17 pistols, eight Glock 19 pistols, a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, three BXP submachine guns, two Uzi submachine guns, and 1,635 rounds of ammunition were also issued.
It was not clear what all this was for.
Some individuals the firearms were handed to did not attend prescribed training sessions so should not have been allowed to handle the weapons.
In December 2016, 21 of the 39 firearms were returned to the SSA.
By November 2020, four firearms remained unaccounted for. Of the 1,635 rounds of ammunition, only 755 rounds were returned – but the State Capture Commission heard that some of the returned ammunition didn’t belong to the SSA in the first place.
Recovered firearms were sent for ballistics testing to see whether any could be linked to crimes. It is not clear what the results were.
During the commission’s hearing, a witness known as Dorothy testified that she was involved in collecting firearms on behalf of Dlomo and that she had opened a case on the missing firearms.
“The question is,” Zondo asked in his final report, “what have police done with that matter?”
This week national police referred a DM168 query about this to the Hawks.
On Friday national Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo said: “I believe it’s still early stages to respond on the findings of the commission on the final report.”
She said it was understood that the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigating directorate would again study the report and “check which of the findings are already under investigation and which are new”.
Violating the Firearms Control Act
In his report Zondo called on authorities to investigate Dlomo and the individual known as Johan.
“The involvement of Ambassador Thulani Dlomo and Johan constitute prima facie criminal conduct in violation of the Firearms Control Act and the SSA prescripts governing the issuance and control of the SSA armoury,” he said.
“The matter calls [for it] to be referred to the law enforcement agencies for further and thorough investigation, particularly as some of the firearms and ammunition have not been returned.”
Zondo also advised that law enforcement investigate Dlomo for “the withdrawal, handling and distribution of SSA’s money”, and for “creating a potential danger to the country” over allegedly unlawful SSA vetting procedures.
Fake intelligence documents
In his final report, Zondo referenced fake intelligence reports. These have become a trademark in State Capture sagas, with the reports often used as diversion tactics, to create the impression that corrupt individuals are in fact victims, or to tarnish the characters of state sleuths who are going after corrupt officials.
Zondo specifically referred to reports that emanated from the police’s Crime Intelligence unit.
One such report, dating back many years to when Zuma was still president, became known as the “Mdluli Report”. It was named after former Crime Intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, who now faces criminal charges of fraud and corruption. Mdluli is currently serving a five-year sentence for kidnapping and assault.
“The report alleged there was a plan to topple President Zuma,” Zondo said.
Though Zuma apparently claimed to believe the Mdluli Report, it was rejected by Jeff Maqetuka, a former SSA director-general, as well as former SSA foreign branch head Moe Shaik, and domestic intelligence head Gibson Njenje, who were in office at the time.
Shaik believed the report was linked to an investigation being conducted into the Guptas, the Zuma-aligned brothers who are now synonymous with State Capture.
Another “discredited” intelligence report alleged there was a conspiracy within the police to remove Mdluli, who at that stage was still head of Crime Intelligence. Zondo warned about the dangers of bogus reports.
“The peddling of false and unsubstantiated so-called intelligence reports can destabilise the country. The country’s intelligence structures, as well as those to whom they report, need to be alive to those dangers,” Zondo said.
“The bottom line is that sound and effective mechanisms should be in place to be able to sift out false reports… You need to have professional people, appointed on the basis of merit, to be in charge of intelligence services.”
State Capture could have been averted
Zondo said that back in 2011 the trio who rejected the “Mdluli Report” – Maqetuka, Shaik, and Njenje – were investigating “the emerging influence of the Gupta family over government officials and President Zuma as a threat to national security”, but their actions were thwarted and instead they left the SSA.
Among those said to be opposed to this investigation was former state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, who was viewed as having protected Zuma (and who denied ordering that investigations do not continue).
“The evidence suggests that this commission may not in fact have been necessary if the SSA had detected, fully investigated and countered State Capture as a threat to our constitutional order when the symptoms of State Capture first appeared,” Zondo said, adding that a trend had developed over time at the SSA.
“There is a discernible pattern, one which is reflected in recent events at the SSA, that investigations into wrongdoing at the SSA are interfered with or eventually stopped,” Zondo said.
“Alternatively, they continue until completion but are never acted upon and the findings remain recommendations which are never implemented. This means that wrongdoers are not called upon to account.”
Time will now tell whether this will change.
After accepting Zondo’s report on the evening of 22 June, Ramaphosa said that, within four months, he would indicate to Parliament how the recommendations in it would be acted on.
The tools of the State Capture trade
– Allies in top state intelligence positions to spy, run rogue operations, and do whatever it takes to help keep particular politicians in power and snuff out investigations that lead back to them that could prove criminality.
– State firearms can be kept or passed on to rogue foot soldiers. Checks and balances don’t need to be followed so recipients don’t need to be competent with handling these.
– Cash from state coffers, lots of it, to do anything with, including run parallel investigations and line certain pockets.
– Fake intelligence reports to distract from corruption and to tarnish the characters of those within the state who are investigating corrupt officials.
– A communication surveillance device that effectively eavesdrops, known as a “grabber”, to monitor threats and rivals … or simply try to purchase one at an inflated price and then get your hands on the state money meant to buy it so you can buy votes. DM168
(Based on Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s final instalment of the State Capture Inquiry report handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa on 22 June 2022.)
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.