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Fact-Check – Did a top State Security official accuse SA judges of corruption?

Fact-Check – Did a top State Security official accuse SA judges of corruption?
Bantu Holomisa speaks during the debate of the section 89 Independent Panel Report at Cape Town City Hall. 13 December 2022. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

This is one of those stories that has drawn in a bunch of people who should seriously know better – among them, at least two leaders of prominent South African political parties.

In late November, a document started circulating via WhatsApp – which is sometimes a red flag. It was titled, “JUDICIAL CORRUPTION IN SOUTH AFRICA INTELLIGENCE REPORT”, looks pretty official, and is a meaty 54 pages in length.

It also purports to be authored by Thembisile Majola, Director-General of the State Security Agency (SSA), and it is addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

What it contains is a number of allegations about a handful of South African judges: the author accuses them of perjury, lying under oath, defeating the ends of justice by interfering with judicial proceedings, delivering dishonest judgements, and sexual misconduct.

The report started circulating like wildfire. Among those who found it sufficiently convincing to take action on was veteran South African politician Bantu Holomisa, the leader of the United Democratic Movement. Holomisa asked Parliament to investigate further — he asked the joint standing committee on intelligence to look into the report, writing that in his opinion, it contained information of “critical national importance”.

Another politician who jumped right on this bandwagon: EFF leader Julius Malema, who retweeted allegations contained in the report alongside photographs of the relevant judges.

What’s really going on here?

Well, it didn’t take long for the SSA to put out a statement urgently denying that it was the source of the report. It’s actually very rare for the SSA to put out a media statement at all: it hasn’t published one for 18 months.

Now obviously this did precisely nothing to douse the flames because, as people rightly said, of course, the SSA would deny the leak of a confidential report.

But in reality, all it takes to realise that something is majorly off with this report is to actually read it. Its major focus is the treatment of a lawyer called Anthony Brink, and essentially how unfairly he was treated when he wasn’t appointed to the position of senior litigator at Legal Aid in Pietermaritzburg.

Why, you might think, would the SSA be so invested in an individual labour dispute? The answer is, of course, that they’re not — and that Brink himself wrote this report. This is evident firstly from the fact that the report itself says it is available to download from Brink’s website, and secondly from the fact that Brink admitted that he wrote the report to News24.

Now it would be remiss of me not to mention something else about Brink: namely that his claim to fame is being an Aids denialist, and that in the early 2000s he wrote some truly horrifying stuff. This included calling for the International Criminal Court to punish Aids activist Zackie Achmat by confining him to a cage. That is Anthony Brink for you.

Let’s cut to the chase: the report is bogus, and it just reflects one man’s grievances against the justice system. It was not produced by the SSA.

But the reason why it was able to circulate so widely is because it has entered the public domain at a time when there is an existing atmosphere of mistrust in the South African judiciary.

That is not because any credible evidence has yet been produced to suggest that there is a widespread problem when it comes to corruption among South African judges. That has not happened. What has happened is that a series of people with criminal charges hanging over their heads — such as former president Jacob Zuma and Malema — have deliberately sought to sow suspicion about the integrity of judges, clearly in order to assist themselves when it comes to tussles with the justice system down the line.

South Africa has been destabilised at several points in recent history by fake intelligence reports. Politicians, in particular, should know this — and try to exercise a little bit more caution before falling for anything that looks vaguely official that passes their desk. DM

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