Guest Column

The real rogues - Zuma, SSA "bogus union" signals national crisis

2016-12-19 08:01
President Jacob Zuma. (AFP)

President Jacob Zuma. (AFP)

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Pieter-Louis Myburgh

Members of Parliament's ad hoc committee probing the disarray at the SABC expressed their shock when they were told this week that agents of the State Security Agency (SSA) had spied on some of the public broadcaster's employees.

"At some point the minister of state security will have to explain this thing,” said ANC MP Hlomane Chauke.

But Minister David Mahlobo, who took over from Siyabonga Cwele in 2014, would have to account for a whole lot more than just the SABC issue if he were ever forced to explain some of the SSA's activities over the last few years.

When veteran investigative journalist Jacques Pauw first used the word "rogue" to describe dubious activities within South Africa's intelligence community, it had been in relation to a shadowy unit within the SSA known as the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

The report's publication date, 10 August 2014, is significant. Mere weeks after Pauw's exposé, all hell broke loose at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) when the Sunday Times ran the first of a myriad "revelations" on a "rogue unit" supposedly operating at SARS, not at the SSA. The Sars "rogue unit" myth has now largely been dispelled, but the real rogues at the SSA are still running loose.

My first article on questionable projects by SSA operatives first appeared in Rapport and City Press in April 2016. The report detailed a civil claim by one Thebe Maswabi, founding member of the Workers Association Union, a new labour union, brought against President Jacob Zuma, Mahlobo, the SSA and other government departments.

Maswabi's claims sounded like it had come straight from the pens of John le Carré or Ian Fleming, perhaps sans the literary flair with which these authors had crafted their oeuvres of brilliant espionage fiction.

Maswabi basically claimed that Zuma had told him to establish the new union, with the assistance of SSA agents and resources, in order to bring stability to the strike-ridden platinum belt.

The issue has come back into the spotlight when Maswabi's claim recently landed on the court roll in the North Gauteng High Court.

Though Maswabi's court papers mentions Zuma's supposed concern over the country's economy when he allegedly decided to help establish a union that would counter the "pro-strike" Amcu, it also points to abuse of state intelligence resources for political purposes.

The WAU's founding members, according to Maswabi's claim, were instructed to spy on Amcu and entice its members to leave the union. Amcu is, of course, seen as a direct rival of the pro-ANC National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which began to bleed support in the wake of 2012's Marikana massacre.

The SSA also seems to have been present in the politically toxic environment in which the very Marikana tragedy played out.

After the report on Maswabi's court claim, I was shown a top secret intelligence document that contained a small detail with massive implications.

The document showed that Barnard Mokwena, Lonmin's former HR boss, had been a paid covert SSA operative at the time of the Marikana tragedy. Following the report, Mokwena vowed to "set the record straight" on radio presenter John Robbie's show on 702, but he has never done so.

Mokwena happens to be married to Mandisa Mokwena, who'd been exposed in Pauw's report as a member of the SSA's SOU. Mokwena was also one of the first people who'd complained about SARS' supposed "rogue unit", but this was only after she'd been implicated in a fraud and corruption racket at Sars when she was still a Sars group executive head, before she became a SSA SOU member.

Given Mokwena's conduct as Lonmin's HR head during the violent strike at Marikana in 2012, the indication that he'd been a paid SSA agent raises disturbing questions around the SSA's role in the tragedy.

Transcripts of conversations Mokwena had had before the massacre, which were submitted at the Marikana commission of enquiry, showed that he'd been particularly hostile toward the striking miners. He also seemed to view Amcu as the main culprits in the strike.

"Our priority is, we want people arrested, okay. It is very clear Amcu is behind it (the strike), very clear. . ." Mokwena had told North West police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo in a meeting on the eve of the massacre.

"I am not a trained intelligence officer," Mokwena ironically told Mbombo when he provided her with the information showing Amcu's alleged complicity in the violence.

Mokwena left Lonmin after the Marikana massacre, but he can now be linked to the establishment of the anti-AMCU WAU.

In October 2013, the exact time during which Maswabi was allegedly first asked by Zuma to establish the WAU, Mokwena formed Kazol Resources, a private company that supposedly operates in the mining sector and which also happens to have an office in Rustenburg. One of Mokwena's fellow directors is a man called Peter Silenga.

When I originally investigated Maswabi's claims that the WAU had been a covert SSA project, I independently spoke to former members of the WAU. Two of these former members gave me a cellphone number of a man they say rocked up in Rustenburg, where the WAU's head office had been, to help them with the logistics of setting up shop. I traced the number and it belongs to no-one else but Peter Silenga.

What all of this points to, is the SSA's involvement, particularly the involvement of a SSA unit with close links to Zuma, in activities that seem to have focused on destabilising Amcu. The question is whether it is justified for intelligence resources to be devoted to such projects. Was there a legitimate national security motivation for becoming involved in these projects, or did they serve party-political interests? In light of the anti-ANC Amcu's dramatic ascendency during and after the events at Marikana, it is not far-fetched to imagine that the Zuma-regime would have considered any means necessary to halt or reverse the union's swell in popularity.

These apparent abuses of state intelligence resources can only be curtailed in an environment in which government intelligence operations are subjected to oversight and accountability. There has been virtually no such oversight or accountability since the term of the previous Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI), Faith Radebe, came to an end in March 2015. A new IGI, Setihomamaru Dintwe, recently got the nod from Parliament's joint standing committee on intelligence.

But Dintwe should not be seen as a lone crusader against the use of spooks for nefarious purposes. It is up to the public to rally against such abuses with the same level of fervor it has shown in voicing its disapproval over state capture or the fiasco at the SABC.

* Pieter-Louis Myburgh is an investigative reporter at News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  ssa
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