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South Africa: Zuma spy allegations could splash Ramaphosa, too

By The Africa Report
Posted on Friday, 29 January 2021 11:28

South Africa Former President
Former South African President Jacob Zuma, laughs as he waits for the state capture hearings to get underway in Johannesburg, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Grandiose spy tales about abuse and rot in South Africa’s intelligence services aired this week, revealing that former president Jacob Zuma’s personal spy force was in place before he even became president in 2009.

Evidence before the anti-graft commission this week revealed that, once he was in power, Zuma allegedly milked the government’s State Security Agency (SSA) for millions of rands in cash every month, channeled to him in large payments through the intelligence minister.

This evidence not only implicates Zuma further in the grand scale of corruption conducted during his time in power, labelled “state capture”, it could also damage his rival and incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa.

‘Ramaphosa had no choice’

Despite campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, Ramaphosa retained Zuma’s tainted former intelligence minister, David Mahlobo, in his cabinet after taking over from Zuma in 2018, albeit as a deputy minister in the housing portfolio.

Analysts speculate that Ramaphosa had no choice but to appoint Mahlobo, who is close to Ramaphosa’s deputy, David Mabuza. Mabuza rallied his considerable support base behind Ramaphosa to help him become ANC president in 2017.

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Ramaphosa has previously indicated his willingness to testify in front of the commission should he be called to do so.

‘Millions were channeled’

An intelligence operative, only known as Ms K, who gave evidence from a secret location this week, told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that this same minister received R21m to “deal with the issue of judges” whom he believed were trying to overthrow the state. At the time there were some adverse judgements against Zuma relating to corruption.

Tax money to the tune of R1bn was spent by Zuma’s point man in the agency over six years, with no account for these expenses.

Records show millions were channeled out of the agency’s coffers in December 2017, ahead of the governing African National Congress’s leadership election. Ramaphosa, then deputy president, went up against Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who was supported by Zuma.

Much of the evidence that emerged this week was included in a report compiled by Sydney Mufamadi and already handed to Ramaphosa more than two years ago.

Mufamadi, who was police minister in former president Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet, testified in front of the commission on Monday.

Mufamadi and his high-level review panel were appointed by Ramaphosa in June 2018 to probe the issues that contributed to the malfunctioning at the SSA. They completed their report six months later.

Findings by the panel

The panel found there was “a serious politicisation and factionalisation of the intelligence community” that was “based on factions in the ruling party”.

These issues date back roughly to 2005 when Mbeki fired Zuma as his deputy president when a court found that he was in a corrupt relationship with his financial adviser.

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Mbeki was eventually forced out of office in 2008 after Zuma toppled him as party president the year before.

The civilian intelligence community was turned “into a private resource to serve the political and personal interests of particular individuals,” the panel found.

Mufamadi’s evidence this week revealed that a special operations intelligence unit, set up under Zuma’s watch, undertook operations that were “clearly unconstitutional and illegal”.

These included:

  • Project Construcao, involving the training of VIP agents to provide protection to Zuma and his allies in the ANC and in state agencies.
  • Project Commitment, which provided Zuma with R2m a month in 2015, increasing to R4,5m the next year. His annual salary at the time amounted to R2.75m. The cash payments were channeled through Mahlobo but there’s no proof of Zuma having received the money.
  • Operation Lock, which provided apartheid assassin Eugene de Kock with a safe house and monthly “salary” of R40,000 after his release on parole in 2015. De Kock had been assisting the prosecuting authority’s Missing Persons Task Team to locate the bodies of murdered members of the ANC’s armed wing, but the team complained that the SSA blocked their access to him.
  • Project Wave, to infiltrate and influence the media at home and abroad.
  • Project Accurate/Khusela, which recruited toxicologists to test the food and bedding of Zuma after a “poisoning” scare in 2014, and costing R1.5m a month.
  • Project Tin Roof, involving the investigation and unlawful detention of Nompumelelo Ntuli, one of the polygamous Zuma’s wives, after she was suspected of poisoning him. The project, with a budget of R5.2m, involved acquiring a safe house for her and seemingly also maintaining her. She was never prosecuted due to lack of evidence.
  • Project Academia, which was aimed at intervening in the #FeesMustFall student movement “to institute counter-measures and ensure stability and peace in our universities”.
  • A trade union was also established in the platinum belt to counter the growing influence of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), a rival union to the ANC.

The SSA missed its deadline of March last year to implement the panel’s recommendations amidst allegations that insiders still loyal to Zuma are blocking these efforts.

Another blow

Zuma suffered another seeming blow this week. On Thursday South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma does not have a right to remain silent and had to appear before the Zondo Commission after he walked out on it in November last year.

The commission, which was set up by Zuma’s government in January 2018, has a deadline of March for wrapping up its work.

“The respondent’s conduct in defying the process lawfully issued under the authority of the law is antithetical to our constitutional order,” the court said.

Zuma finds himself in a tight spot as he cannot appeal this ruling, but might yet find another tactic to escape accountability or to fight back, using his considerable network of spooks and his treasure trove of dirt on political rivals.

Zuma worked closely with the ANC’s intelligence structures since his time in exile, said political analyst from the Xuberra Institute for Research and Development, Xolani Dube.

“Zuma is a futuristic person. He is always 10, 20 steps ahead of us all.”