Er, the King of Leaves? Ten points for creativity

2015-08-23 16:53
Manuel Foto: Bongiwe gumede

Manuel Foto: Bongiwe gumede

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Who names these weird spy documents that sow mayhem in the state and governing party circles? 

On Friday, Business Day broke the story that Project Spider Web had surfaced to tarnish the reputation of the National Treasury, which, with its department of finance, is the best government department in South Africa and is renowned for its professionalism and probity. 

It follows the Browse Mole Report, Ground Cover Intelligence Report and the hoax emails. These are odd names.

Each disinformation report surfaced as part of factional battles in the ANC as President Jacob Zuma made his way to the top office, and once he got there. 

Like the Project Spider Web document, they are badly written, but contain enough truth to be taken somewhat seriously, and they surface when there is real tension. The version of Project Spider Web I received was, it seems, the same one that SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni may have received and had printed by someone at the Jacob Zuma Foundation, where she also serves as chairperson. 

City Press has tried four times over 10 days to get comment from Myeni. ENS Africa, the law firm acting for Myeni, said she was not aware of the document. 

Treasury is getting tough with looting and the misspending of public funds. It is centralising procurement and wayward parastatals (including SAA, which is technically bankrupt) are being reined in to bring their balance sheets under control. 

For example, SAA has been moved out of the political control of the minister of public enterprises and given to Treasury to manage. Myeni is probably already in violation of the memorandum of understanding between SAA and Treasury because she has made executive appointments and policy changes without consulting Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. 

South Africa has lost its fiscal buffer – we no longer have cash reserves or fiscal space to ramp up debt to keep the wolf from the door. Debt-to-GDP levels are high and the global economy is punishing. 

My view is that the document is a smear by elements in the state and state-owned enterprises who are worried that their empires and access to state contracts will be harmed when centralised procurement is implemented.

Treasury’s deputy director-general, Kenneth Brown, who is South Africa’s main chief procurement officer, wrote recently that the state’s spend of R500 billion could be a “force for good”, but the system was “far from perfect”. 

City Press queries have found that the 27-page document is not part of an official State Security Agency investigation. It also bears no resemblance to the state’s intelligence documents, so it may emanate from the private intelligence world. Most of it is cut-and-paste material off websites and there are bits of crazy analysis with terrible spelling. (One hopes whoever commissioned it did not get charged a lot of money). 

This is its key point: “The white establishment, through the private sector, has a huge influence in the running of the National Treasury.” 

Project Spider Web is, in the author’s view, an effort to keep the economy in white establishment hands with the help of Treasury officials. 

Further on, the establishment is identified as the Oppenheimer and Rupert families, megarich dynasties that made their money from mining, cigarettes, financial services and luxury goods. 

This line stuck out: “Cyril Ramaphosa is seen as one of the most important figures in the history of Spider Web.”

He is under political pressure because it is believed his administration will be fashioned on the principles of clean governance and will deal with cronyism and patronage. 

At least the writer has a sense of humour. All the key characters have names. Former Cabinet minister and now banker Trevor Manuel is the King of Leaves. Former Treasury director-general Maria Ramos is the Queen of Leaves. 

The two are said to handle the Treasury like puppet masters. Treasury senior staff members (strict fiscal disciplinarians not well liked in the rest of the civil service because they don’t take nonsense) are called The Emperor, The Fog, The Jackal, The Bull and The Tiger. 

Nene (spy code name unknown) will respond to the document in Business Day tomorrow. 


At a time, when there's so much depressing news, we should thank the drafters of this strange document for affording us an opportunity to laugh out loud.

I suspect, though, that since they went to the trouble of drafting and then carefully distributing their twaddle, it is probably not the response they expect.

So who are the drafters - they are either a group of 16-year old pranksters playing "Masters of the Universe", or they are a shadowy group such as "Orde Boerevolk", who claim that all of the successes of the National Treasury (right through to the PIC), is the product of this strange web spun by the spider, Johann Rupert.

The period that the web operated covers 5 Ministers of Finance, and has seen the nurturing of a significant group of professional (and mainly black) public servants who would rank among some of the finest in the world.

Well, if this is what Johann Rupert produced through his web, with the assistance of Prof Hugo Nel, my advice to the ANC is that they use the forthcoming NGC to elect him ANC President, and thereafter President of the Republic. We must surely commit to building centres of excellence, especially in public administration.

But, if as some commentators suggest, that this looks sufficiently like some other recent silliness (that includes stories about investigating individuals such as Thuli Madonsela, Zwelinzima Vavi and Julius Malema, as CIA agents; or suggestions about the Chief Justice having raped a sex worker), to suggest that it may be the output of the dirty tricks division of the Department of State Security, then we should all be very scared.

Across the world right now intelligence agencies are engaged with the assessment of real threats, and ours might be playing silly buggers; or alternatively, they're so smart that they keep creating decoys, as in this instance.

It would be great if somebody would own up. I hope that the investigation that Minister Nene committed to, to establish the origins of this rubbish solves the problem soonest!

- Trevor Manuel

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