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STATE CAPTURE

Civil society organisations release Boast Report, demand accountability for ‘rogue’ spying

Civil society organisations release Boast Report, demand accountability for ‘rogue’ spying
Civil society organisations Greenpeace Africa, Right2Know and Right2Protest released the declassified 'Boast Report' from the Zondo Commission into State Capture on Friday, 1 July. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla) Main pic

The ‘Boast Report’ — released by civil society organisations on Friday, 1 July — contains details of State Security Agency operations intended to surveil and infiltrate NGOs and student movements. Affected organisations, including Greenpeace Africa and Right2Know, are demanding greater transparency and accountability around these suspect activities.

Civil society organisations Greenpeace Africa, Right2Know and Right2Protest released the declassified “Boast Report” from the Zondo Commission into State Capture on Friday. The report, dated 24 February 2017, references some of the questionable spying activities undertaken by the State Security Agency (SSA) during the state capture era.

Written by a member of the SSA special operations unit to then Director-General Arthur Fraser, the report references the accomplishments of operations intended to surveil non-government organisations and infiltrate student movements. Among those civil society actors affected were Greenpeace Africa, Right2Know and #FeesMustFall activists.

“The infiltration and surveillance of civil society must be investigated, and where appropriate, the responsible people should be disciplined if they remain in the employ of the SSA, and criminally charged by the National Prosecuting Authority,” said Professor Jane Duncan of the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Johannesburg.

An image of Professor Jane Duncan in relation to the Boast Report

Professor Jane Duncan. (Photo: Supplied)

“Unless and until that happens, then I don’t think that we can reasonably conclude that the Presidency is serious about cleaning up the SSA.”

Duncan was speaking at a press conference held by Greenpeace Africa, Right2Know and Right2Protest on Friday.

Boast Report

The Boast Report provides insight into the activities of 14 SSA operatives, referred to as “co-workers”, during the period 1 January 2016 to 24 February 2017. 

While the report has been declassified, the names of all those involved remain unknown. The author of the report is referred to only as “Braze”.

Under a section titled “Student Movements”, Braze claims that operatives “infiltrated all [Western Cape] universities and student activist groups on social networks” and “obtained key information pertaining to role players and their contact details and modus operandi”.

Braze goes on to state that “active monitoring of the South Africa First, Right to Know [sic], SaveSA, Casac [Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution] and Greenpeace was done due to the penetration ability of the [SSA] group”.

A team of operatives penetrated these groups and posed as activists for the NGOs, thus monitoring their supporter strengths, leaders, ideologies, support structures and agendas, according to the report.

Director-General of the State Security Agency Thembisile Majola

Newly appointed Director-General of the State Security Agency Thembisile Majola. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

The Boast Report is mentioned on page 225 of the fifth and final instalment of the Zondo report, handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday, 22 June.

Read in Daily Maverick: “SSA’s off-the-books projects — capturing media, making R54m a year for Zuma, and much more

While 380 pages of the final report are devoted to the activities of the SSA, Duncan expressed concern that the agency’s abuses of civil society organisations’ rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association were not thoroughly explored.

“I think that the issue that concerns us… is to focus the public mind on the broader threat to democracy that the State Security Agency had become under the previous president,” said Duncan. 

“And unless these problems are addressed, and those who were responsible for these abuses of the basic rights and freedoms of civil society are held to account, then it’s possible and probably even likely that those kinds of abuses will continue.”

Greenpeace Africa, Right2Know and Right2Protest are calling on the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, the Office of The Inspector General and the Auditor General to ensure that the Presidency accounts for the reforms it has initiated and provides a reasonable timeframe for the implementation of outstanding reforms.

The organisations further demand:

  • Full disclosure around the extent of the SSA infiltration and surveillance carried out against civil society organisations;
  • That those who conducted these infiltration and surveillance activities be named, investigated and disciplined or prosecuted; and
  • That all the recommendations of the High-Level Review Panel on the SSA be implemented by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Former spy boss Arthur Fraser slams High Level Review Panel report into SSA as ‘treasonous’

President Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)

“We’re firmly convinced that these operations that were conducted against civil society had no sound basis,” said Duncan. 

“Unless the State Security Agency can step forward and prove that there was unlawful conduct on the part of these organisations — and not just unlawful conduct, but unlawful conduct that amounted to national security threats — then we cannot see any sound basis for the surveillance and infiltration of civil society organisations like Greenpeace Africa and the Right2Know campaign to have taken place.”

Uncertainty and distrust

Greenpeace Africa has made several attempts to gain further information and greater accountability in relation to the SSA’s infiltration of their organisation. 

These included sending a letter to the Presidency in March 2021 — which received no response beyond an acknowledgement of receipt — and a Promotion of Access to Information Act request to SSA, which was ultimately denied, according to Melita Steele, interim programme director for Greenpeace Africa.

“We still do not know the full extent of the infiltration and surveillance, or whether it is still ongoing,” said Steele. 

“To date, nobody has been held accountable for any of the illegal activities listed in the Boast Report. Greenpeace Africa, along with our partners, are really demanding transparency and action from the South African government.”

Due to a lack of information as to the extent of the surveillance activities, it has been difficult for Greenpeace to identify vulnerabilities and increase security within the organisation, she continued.

#FeesMustFall protest in front of the Union Building, Gauteng.
(Photo: Supplied)

“As a civil society organisation that is also based on activism, we have an active activist volunteer base, and so the best that we can do is to make sure that… when we’re bringing on new volunteers and activists, and even staff members, that we’re carefully reviewing and checking for an alignment with our values,” said Steele.

“But ultimately, we remain vulnerable, because it’s very difficult to understand which parts of the organisation might have been affected.”

Right2Know has never been able to identify those SSA operatives who infiltrated their organisation, according to Bongani ka Mthembu of the Right2Know Working Group. This has led to them being ostracised by other organisations.

“It is the risk we face as an organisation that has caused others to avoid working with us as a movement,” he said. “We have been shunned by many, but continue to serve the country.”

Now, it is time for the truth to come out, stated Ka Mthembu.

“We all deserve to know how someone secretly snuck into our organisations and pretended to be one of us.” DM/MC

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