Is the NIA spying on SABC staff?

Durban – A union has lifted the lid on what it describes as suspicious activity by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) at the SABC’s Durban office.

Allegations included employees being thrown out of offices for hours and of them being threatened with dismissal if they dared speak of the activity.

This is according to Hannes du Buisson, president of the Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu).

Du Buisson, representing more than 1 200 workers countrywide, on Tuesday wrote a letter addressed to South African Broadcasting Corporation CEO Frans Matlala questioning the presence of NIA operatives at the Durban office.

Matlala has told News24 he would investigate and then respond.

In the letter, Du Buisson said, “They [NIA] have instructed employees to leave their offices while operators spent between two and three hours per office for a purpose unknown to the employees.

“We have furthermore been informed that employees were instructed to keep quiet about this and were threatened with action should they tell anybody.”

Employees uncomfortable with operation

Du Buisson explained that employees were extremely uncomfortable with the operation which started two weeks ago.

“They are not sure whether secret surveillance equipment was [being] installed in their offices, and if so, why is this happening and necessary? We do not see any reason for NIA to lock employees out of their offices, remaining inside alone.

“The SABC is a workplace, not a law enforcement agency or some secret organisation where NIA agents have free rein.”

He said employees did not expect such conduct from a state broadcaster. “For a state agency to act in this manner at a public broadcaster is of serious concern… such action seriously compromises what is left of the SABC’s integrity.”

Du Buisson said employees want an explanation from Matlala.

“We request your urgent intervention, assistance and explanation. We request that this secret operation be stopped and the purpose and intent be communicated to staff.

“We also want an explanation as to why [the] NIA finds it necessary to put employees out of their offices, invading their privacy and workspace, where they spent the majority of the day and a substantial time of their lives,” he said.

SABC ‘should investigate’

Speaking to News24 on Wednesday, Du Buisson questioned why the public broadcaster was using a state agency to conduct its investigation. “The SABC should do its own investigation. These guys should be investigating more serious cases out there.

“What information could they be looking for at the SABC that could threaten the security of the state or are these guys just operating outside their mandate?

“I understand that the SABC is a national key point but nothing was explained to the staff,” said Du Buisson.

When contacted about the letter, Matlala said he would investigate the matter and revert back to News24 with a response.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said he was not aware of the letter.

“It would be unprofessional to respond through the media. If the letter was addressed to the CEO, then I will ask Mr Matlala if he received the letter. At the moment you will be writing based on speculation,” said Kganyago.

When asked if the Durban staff had reported strange activity taking place to the SABC headquarters Kganyago said, “The SABC is a national key point and we would not discuss such matters in the media. We do not control the key point, we can only comply.”

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