🔒 Premium: Zuma’s ‘rogue’ spies infiltrated civil society organisations

By Michael Appel

A declassified report from within the belly of the State Security Agency (SSA) details how agents infiltrated several civil society organisations in South Africa posing as activists.

The NGOs the SSA got its talons into include SaveSA, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), Right2Know, and Greenpeace Africa.

Extract from the declassified Boast Report

The so-called Boast Report – which can be accessed here – was declassified by the State Capture Inquiry and sheds light on the activities that SSA agents were involved in at the taxpayers’ expense. The report was written by a member of the SSA’s special operations unit – known only as Braze – for then director general of the agency, Arthur Fraser. It’s a report back to Fraser on the period 1 January 2016 to 24 February 2017 in which 14 “co-workers” were operationally deployed to “impede, neutralise and advise management on threats to national security.”

At the time, former President Jacob Zuma was increasingly besieged with accusations of state capture due to the proximity of himself and his family to the Guptas. David Mahlobo was the then state security minister, and, as mentioned above, Fraser was still at the helm of the spy agency. Cyril Ramaphosa would later redeploy Fraser to head up Correctional Services in April 2018. While Ramaphosa couldn’t have possibly known it at the time, Fraser’s seemingly innocuous shift to prisons’ boss would end up working very much in Zuma’s favour years later, when he freed Zuma on medical parole. That decision was deemed unlawful by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, but is being sent on appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal by Zuma with the matter set down for 15 August.

Ramaphosa’s ascension to the highest office came after battling it out for the reins of the ANC with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the Nasrec Conference in December 2017. Ramaphosa managed to beat his rival by only 179 votes.

Not long into office, Ramaphosa launched an investigation – in June 2018 – into the SSA called the High-Level Review Panel. It was chaired by former cabinet minister Dr Sydney Mufamadi and concluded its work six months later. Ramaphosa had had the report and known about the sordid mess it uncovered since at least December 2018. The findings were astounding.

The SSA operates in the shadows with what is known as a “dark budget”. While financial systems are theoretically in place, they’re not open to scrutiny, and by virtue of operating on an almost cash-only system of advances, it’s very difficult to reconcile who money goes to, and what it is being spent on.

The Mufamadi report stated that: “…our key finding is that there has been a serious politicisation and factionalisation of the intelligence community over the past decade or more, based on factions in the ruling party, resulting in an almost complete disregard for the Constitution, policy, legislation and other prescripts, and turning our civilian intelligence community into a private resource to serve the political and personal interests of particular individuals.”

In an interview with BizNews, interim programme director of Greenpeace Africa, Melita Steele, explains how the NGO came to find out it was being spied on and what recourse it now seeks.

“It first came to light in 2019 when Sydney Mufamadi released a high level report on the state security agency and then was confirmed again last year during the Zondo Commission testimonies. And it seems like the State Security Agency was quite actively engaged in infiltration and surveillance of civil society seeking a better future for South Africa, which is quite worrying.

“What we still don’t have are the names and details of the people who actually did the infiltration. Neither do we have the information about any action that may have been taken against them post the release of this [Boast] report,” says Steele.

Asked what the NGO could have been involved in that put it on the radar of the SSA at the time, Steele says Greenpeace Africa was working on a shift away from fossil fuels.

“…we were quite deeply engaged in pushing back against the [R1trn] nuclear investments that were planned at the time, and of which President Jacob Zuma had quite a significant interest in making sure that those nuclear deals did go ahead,” says Steele.

It wasn’t only Zuma who had an interest in tying the nation to what National Treasury deemed was a financially ruinous 9.6GW nuclear build programme…so did the Guptas. The controversial family – which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is in the process of trying to extradite from the United Arab Emirates after the arrest of Atul and Rajesh last month – were the owners of a uranium mine. 

In 2010, their company Oakbay had obtained a 74% stake in Uranium One – which the Guptas would rename Shiva Uranium. Almost 70% of the financing for that deal came from the Industrial Development Corporation (ie: the government). The Guptas – in business with Zuma’s son Duduzane – stood to be rewarded handsomely for their patience in purchasing a uranium mine at a time when nuclear power was on the decline.

Steele says the SSA was wasting taxpayer money on infiltrating civil society organisations working in the public interest. “It’s an indication of how the space for civil society is shrinking, while the space for the government to actually act with impunity in a corrupt kind of way seems to be expanding,” she says.

The High-Level Review Panel found that the special operations unit acted as a parallel structure “serving a faction of the ruling party and, in particular, the personal political interests of the sitting president of the party and country.”

One needs no greater illustration of the above findings than what is contained in the Boast Report’s operational and performance review. It shows how the SSA initiated countering operations to “impede the distribution of CR17 [the name for Ramaphosa’s election campaign] regalia.”

Extract from the declassified Boast Report

Mufamadi’s panel report made damning findings against Mahlobo and Fraser, among others, but curiously Ramaphosa continued to appoint both characters to his government. Mahlobo, in fact, remains the deputy minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. Meanwhile, Fraser remained at Correctional Services until late September 2021.

In his final report, State Capture Inquiry Chairperson Raymond Zondo took swipes at Ramaphosa for failing to implement the recommendations of the review of the SSA that he himself instituted.

“Despite very serious findings made by the High-Level Review Panel, not only of a general nature but against Mr Mahlobo in particular, he was appointed back into President Ramaphosa’s Cabinet,” wrote Zondo.

Ramaphosa is due to report his implementation plan following the release of all of Zondo’s findings to Parliament in October this year.

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