Spies found many media houses 'immune' to recruitment or price was too high, Ms K tells Zondo inquiry

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The Zondo Commission has heard jaw-dropping testimony related to activities at the State Security Agency. (Sharon Seretlo, Gallo Images)
The Zondo Commission has heard jaw-dropping testimony related to activities at the State Security Agency. (Sharon Seretlo, Gallo Images)
  • Many media houses were immune to approaches by State Security Agency (SSA) operatives hoping to bring them on board, the Zondo Commission on State Capture heard on Friday. 
  • A report on the SSA's "Project Wave" found that media houses either wanted too much money, or were alert to approaches by security operatives.  
  • Earlier this week, the African News Agency admitted it received money from the SSA, saying it was only for training and writing positive stories.

Many of the media houses that State Security Agency (SSA) operatives tried to recruit for its "Project Wave" either wanted too much money, or were alert to such approaches and rebuffed them, the commission of inquiry on state capture heard on Friday. 

Evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius said this was revealed in a progress report found in an SSA safe which listed its "challenges" and "achievements" under the project.

One of Project Wave’s "challenges" was listed as the recruitment of media houses to work with SSA operatives.

The media houses' cash demands were either too high, or they had their own security alerts against such approaches, and so were immune to being recruited.

The anonymous witness "Ms K", who was testifying for a third day, said there appeared to be some efforts to meet the demands. 

Ms K is employed by the SSA and was part of a team involved in ongoing investigations, including the probing of allegations of corruption revealed at the commission.

Apricot

She is appearing before the commission to confirm the affidavit of another secret witness - "Mr Y" - who has been admitted to hospital and cannot physically testify.

The commission heard that many of the financial records related to payments for Project Wave are missing. 

However, R20 million was paid to African News Agency (ANA), which went under the now-declassified code-word "Apricot", in 2017.

The commission also had a list of names of individuals in the media who were paid, but could not reveal them until the individuals were notified.

ANA chief executive officer Vasantha Angamuthu said on Tuesday that ANA was never a front for the SSA. 

ANA, a subsidiary of the Sekunjalo Group, which also owns Independent Media, issued a statement following earlier testimony by Sydney Mufamadi, who headed a high-level review panel into the SSA and said that ANA was paid money from SSA coffers to counter negative reporting on the ANC and President Jacob Zuma.

Angamuthu confirmed that in 2016/2017 ANA had a contract with the SSA, claiming it was to provide multi-media training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa, and to use its platforms to carry positive stories about South Africa and the South African government.

"But ANA was entirely unaware of any sinister motive by the SSA and did not participate in, nor would we have sanctioned, any business outside of our key focus, which is driving growth and development on the African continent using media," Angamuthu sought to clarify.

Foreign intelligence agencies

The progress report document also claimed among its "achievements" that it confirmed a plot by foreign intelligence agencies to destabilise South Africa and cause regime change.

Pretorius said the document had been referred to previously in the inquiry, but he sought confirmation from Ms K that it was among documents found during an investigation at the agency. 

Ms K said that was not a report received by the investigating team, but accepted Pretorius' submission that it was found in the safe. 

Dated 26 November 2017, it dealt with the "achievements" and "challenges" under "Project Wave".

"Under achievements it is reported that, 'Project Wave' has been able to confirm many of the allegations levelled against the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies in the planned destabilisation of the democratic rule in South Africa," said Pretorius.

"It has also been confirmed, and I am continuing the quote, through the said investigation, the involvement of senior Cabinet members and various senior leaders in the ruling African National Congress who are colluding in a conspiracy to effect regime change in South Africa."

OPINION | Spy vs spy: The ANC's smallanyana skeletons are coming out of the closet

Pretorius continued: "If the intelligence agencies or the [SA Secret Service] was dealing with senior Cabinet members and various senior leaders in the ruling ANC on the basis that they were colluding in a conspiracy to effect regime change in South Africa, does that imply that the object of the project, at least there, would be to protect the existing regime against change?"

Ms K agreed that one could infer that. 

READ HERE | State capture inquiry: Spy claims there were attempts to hold controversial SSA unit accountable

In 2017, South Africa was shocked when former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas got an SMS ordering them ditch an investor roadshow overseas. Gordhan was on the tarmac at Heathrow International Airport, and Jonas was about the leave, when they were summoned for an urgent meeting on the grounds of an "intelligence report". It allegedly implicated them in a plot to remove President Jacob Zuma, with foreign help.

ANALYSIS | Zondo Commission spy saga shows why parliamentary oversight and openness are critical

They rejected the claims, but were removed as ministers, with Malusi Gigaba installed as the new finance political head.

The commission continues.


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