Duped at Medupi?

2013-11-13 00:00

THE supposedly elite security company that protected South Africa’s most expensive power station earlier this year is now a one-man operation providing dogs as granny companions.

And the service that Swartberg Intelligence provided to Eskom — at a cost of R10 million to taxpayers — featured “interpreting signs” like empty Coke bottles and piles of pebbles. Security experts likened this to an urban legend, and dismissed it an “old crackpot idea that amounts to nothing”.

Yesterday, The Witness revealed details of an internal Eskom investigation that found that it had “inappropriately” hired Swartberg to spy on its own workforce at the Medupi power station in Limpopo, to pre-empt violent strike action and crime.

Eskom’s CEO apologised for having used a company for gathering intelligence on stakeholders at the R120 billion Medupi project, including three environmental NGOs.

However, Swartberg has since emerged as a fly-by-night operation, which used discredited and even comical security methods — leaving stakeholders astonished that Eskom had hired them.

Director of Swartberg Lukas Swart yesterday admitted the Gauteng-based company now had no employees, and that he was busy “researching criminal communications, and doing some work providing dogs as granny companions”.

Compiled by law firm Bowman Gilfillan, the internal report found that Swartberg’s reports to Eskom featured dramatic crime predications — including bomb plots at the plant — based on vague, unsubstantiated evidence.

However, although Swartberg had triggered some SAPS probes, the investigation could find no real success other than the recovery of stolen copper wiring.

But it also found that Swartberg’s reports relied heavily on “cryptography”, and that it had launched a probe into potential fuel heist at Medupi on the basis of “signs”, such as “flattened grass”.

The report noted the company made conclusions based on “piles of pebbles” and “twisted pieces of grass”, while Swartberg marketing materials trumpeted its reliance on “battle indicators”.

Yesterday, Koos Marais, security desk manager for Kwanalu, the Agri-SA branch in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “I have investigated over 1 000 farm attacks, and I have never once come across signs left beforehand by the criminals.

“Unfortunately, I think this business of reading signs is a theory which especially old military guys concoct to win security contracts from unsuspecting people. Obviously, I’m surprised Eskom would have been impressed by this strategy.”

Swart (53) said: “I and the people I have trained have years of experience in this area, and it is effective in crime prevention — but it won’t make sense to anybody else.”

Swart alleged that “there were up to 40 NIA operatives [at the Medupi site], and they never came up with anything”.

Bobby Peek, director of Pietermaritzburg-based groundWork, said he was “stunned” that Eskom had “wasted money like this”.

Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger confirmed that the parastatal paid R10 million to Swart’s company, following a tender award.

Etzinger said: “It was clear that some methods — certainly, the cryptography — were unconventional, but other information gathering was done using very conventional means. Fundamentally, the problem here was that correct procedures were not followed.”

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