South Africa


Zuma, SSA and ANC’s hand in platinum belt union woes must not fall through the cracks of remembrance

Zuma, SSA and ANC’s hand in platinum belt union woes must not fall through the cracks of remembrance
Illustrative image | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Dominic Lipinski / Getty Images) | People gather in Marikana to observe the anniversary of the Marikana massacre. (Photos: Gallo Image / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele) | Members of the South African Police Service approach injured and dead Lonmin mine workers on 16 August 2012. (Photo: EPA / Kevin Sutherland)

In this week of commemorating the killing of 34 striking mine workers by police on 16 August 2012, the activities of former president Jacob Zuma and the State Security Agency in the volatile platinum belt should never be forgotten.

It is a matter of fact that the State Security Agency (SSA), with the personal involvement of former president Jacob Zuma in 2013, set up a bogus trade union in the volatile platinum belt to “spy on rival unions”. 

Months after what has become known as the Marikana massacre – the most egregious, post-apartheid act of state violence, when police opened fire on striking mine workers, killing 34 – Zuma and SSA officials met with Thebe Maswabi to set up the bogus Workers’ Association Union (WAU).

Maswabi later sued the former president in civil proceedings and won. The money he had been promised by Zuma and his minions had dried up, he claimed. Zuma settled out of court. 


The shameful saga of the former president’s executive overreach, and the meddling of the security agency in the affairs of the country’s unions, was included in the final report of the Zondo Commission into State Capture.

It was SSA agent Yekani Monde Gadini – linked to Zuma’s “personal spy” Thulani Dlomo’s illegal Special Operations Unit – who registered the WAU at the Department of Labour. Gadini was married to Boniswe Makhene, Zuma’s late legal adviser.

Both Makhene and Gadini were part of Zuma’s inner circle.

On Zuma’s meddling in the affairs of trade unions, former Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said at the time that if this turned out to be true (as it has), “we have a president who has not just lost the plot, but who has been busy trying to create them”.

“For a president to deliberately call together the equivalent of trade union mercenaries and sections of what must be considered probably the most sensitive elements of the state apparatus, beggars belief,” Vavi said.

An even more disturbing revelation surrounding Marikana was that Lonmin’s (now Sibanye) vice-president of human resources during the wage negotiations was Barnard Mokwena, an undercover SSA agent.

It was Mokwena who led the botched negotiations with the striking Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) at Marikana.

Amcu’s rival at Lonmin was the National Union of Mineworkers, founded by Cyril Ramaphosa, James Motlatsi and Elijah Barayi in 1982.

Barnard Mokwena is the husband of SSA agent Mandisa Mokwena, who was directly involved in the formation of an off-the-books toxicology unit to test Jacob Zuma’s food for poison.

Mandisa Mokwena was part of former Minister of State Security David Mahlobo’s Project Accurate (Khusela) – originally costing R500,000 a month, then soaring to R1.5-million, according to the Zondo Report. 

Visit our Marikana anniversary page for more analysis and reflections.

Photo: Felix Dlangamandla

Mokwena, who worked for the National Intelligence Agency before it was transformed by Zuma into the SSA, later turned up at the South African Revenue Service as group executive of the segmentation and research division. 

She was charged and later acquitted on 40 counts of fraud, racketeering and money laundering involving irregular contracts worth R11-million.

In 2012, while awaiting trial, Mokwena registered three companies with one of the then First Ladies, Thobeka Madiba Zuma, but later resigned when the now estranged Mrs Zuma was alerted to the court case.

Mokwena was later appointed head of security at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa). When questioned, she admitted to Daily Maverick in 2019 that she did not disclose that she had worked as an SSA spy when she joined Prasa as “there was no obligation to disclose” this information. She said this “had no bearing on the job that I was employed to do at Prasa” and that she was no longer employed by the agency.

Barnard Mokwena joined Lonmin in 2005 and served as its executive president of human capital and external affairs, and also as executive vice-president of strategic business transformation until December 2014.

Investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh found that Barnard Mokwena was listed on the agency’s central source index from 2004 until at least the end of 2014.

At the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the massacre at Marikana, Mokwena was admonished for having encouraged police to act strongly against the striking Amcu members. It also emerged that he had convinced Lonmin executives not to negotiate with the miners.

Recently, 329 survivors of the shootings brought a civil claim in the Johannesburg High Court seeking damages of R1-billion from President Ramaphosa and Lonmin (now owned by Sibanye-Stillwater). In July, Judge Frits van Oosten made a significant ruling that there was indeed sufficient evidence of complicity in the events that led to the deaths, for which Ramaphosa could be liable if proved so in subsequent court proceedings.

As for accountability with regard to Jacob Zuma and the SSA, and their alleged roles in various plots to destabilise South Africa, the time is drawing nearer.

The Zondo Commission found that between 2012 and 2018, R1.5-billion went unaccounted for at the SSA. Zuma’s “personal spy”, Thulani ‘Silence’ Dlomo, had been appointed to head the illegal Special Operations Unit by 2009.

In the meantime, the National Prosecuting Authority’s Independent Directorate is probing Dlomo in this matter after the Hawks handed over the investigation. 

The investigation will leave no director-general of the SSA unturned. This includes Dennis Thokozani Dlomo (acting) from 2011 to 2013 and Sonto Kudjoe between 2013 and 2016, at which date Arthur Fraser slipped into the hot seat.

Then there is the still unanswered question: Who stood/stands to gain/lose most (apart from the workers who paid with their lives) from the reputational damage in the aftermath of that shocking display of state violence at Marikana?

It is a matter of fact, also, that all of those implicated – directly and with regard to Stratcom-type activities on the platinum belt – have been linked to the ANC, through current president Ramaphosa and former president Zuma. DM


  • Pam Henderson says:

    Thank you Marianne Thamm. Your articles/books are such a pleasure to read.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    All South Africans need to be watching this space very carefully; thank you, Marianne for your very succinct appraisal and analysis of what actually transpired – it seems there are no new depths too deep for the evil forces within the ANC and the State apparatus, to plumb.

    We need a speedy and radical total overhaul of our state apparatus and politics, that have been used, abused cynically by the ANC for far too long.

  • Christopher Lang says:

    These revelations beggar belief! This is a classis case of treason.
    The ANC is like an autoimmune disease. A small part of the organisation is trying to improve the country and manage the affairs efficiently whilst a larger part is trying to destroy this country and what we stand for!

  • Anne Felgate says:

    ‘Mokwena encouraged police to act strongly against the striking Amcu members. It also emerged that he had convinced Lonmin executives not to negotiate with the miners.’
    One wonders wether there was already a plan to destabilise Ramaphosa? Zuma certainly is a long range planner of evil intent

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