Tue, 24 Sep 2019

Zuma's Spygate: Who is the real impimpi?

19 Jul 2019, 16:10 GMT+10

"Jacob Zuma is dragging us down. Not only the ANC, but all of South Africa. At a time where we should be talking about Eskom and job creation, we are talking about spies. Zuma has made everyone an apartheid spy. Why is he doing this?"

The ANC veteran - one of several politicians, former civil servants and intelligence operatives we spoke to this week - is livid. When the ANC took over the levers of state power in 1994, they decided to close the chapter on comrades who were collaborators, double agents or outright spies for the apartheid machinery.

On Monday, Zuma dropped an unexploded hand grenade in the lap of the ANC.

Appearing at the judicial commission of inquiry on allegations of state capture, Zuma told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that he has a list of ANC leaders who worked as spies during apartheid. For whom he didn't say, but he waved around a piece of paper, saying he has "a list" of names.

He was the victim of a grand conspiracy, spanning 29 years, by two foreign intelligence agencies and a former apartheid intelligence unit to bring him down because he knew too much, Zuma said.

Zuma implicated two of his staunchest former allies-turned-critics, Ngoako Ramatlhodi and Siphiwe "Ghebuza" Nyanda, as alleged apartheid spies. Both rejected the claims with contempt and have solid legal grounds to sue Zuma for defamation.

Both were appointed by Zuma as senior ministers to his Cabinet and Nyanda served as commander of the South African National Defence Force while Zuma was deputy president.

Both have been vocal in their criticism of Zuma's alleged capture of the state with his friends, the Guptas.

"I have always treated ANC leaders with respect," said Zuma, before ominously warning that "maybe the time has come to stop doing it".

His threats have ignited a painful debate inside the ANC. Ace Magashule, the party's secretary-general, attended Tuesday's sitting looking to show support and seemingly trying to ascertain just how much incendiary material the former party leader has in his arsenal. Talk inside Luthuli House was that the commission is turning into a liability for the governing party and that if left unchecked could see Zuma do enormous harm to the organisation.

"We have gone overboard on transparency...it's a lose-lose situation for us," one party official with knowledge of discussions on the sixth floor of Luthuli House - the executive floor - said this week.

Among some in the old guard of the ANC, those who were part of the preparations to return from exile and who worked on the transition to government, there seems to be anger about Zuma's unsubstantiated statements. The list he waved around was allegedly drawn up by "Ralph Mgcina" (real name Edward Lawrence), a senior Umkhonto we Sizwe commander and alleged apartheid infiltrator.

Apart from strong denouncements by veterans like Sydney Mufamadi (who said Zuma has an "exaggerated" sense of self-importance), Jeremy Cronin said ANC leaders in the late 1980s believed Zuma to be "unsuited" to be left in charge of security and intelligence matters.

"Does he realise that people died because of false accusations like the ones he made this week? Does he understand how much pain families had to endure because of recklessness like this? His actions... it's unfathomable," a respected ANC luminary said this week.

"What he did was unthinkable. He has endangered their lives," a former apartheid spy operative says. "If we want to open this door, it will have to be done with the utmost care. There is a big difference between someone who tendered information to us and someone who was threatened that his wife and children would be killed if he didn't cooperate."

There is broad consensus in the reformist faction of the ANC that Zuma's motive was to change the narrative of the Zondo commission from his own culpability during the state capture project to a game of "who was a spy?"

"Listen to us, we should be talking about why he fired Nhlanhla Nene, why he pushed his Cabinet to support Oakbay and why he didn't act against Bruce Koloane after the Waterkloof scandal, but we are talking about spies," says another ANC veteran.

Zuma created a "dead cat" to change the narrative and shift the spotlight to his accusers.

His "outing" of Ramatlhodi and Nyanda while dangling a piece of paper with "more names" on it has understandably opened an old chestnut in the ANC: was Zuma himself on the payroll of the Nats or one or more foreign intelligence agencies? After Monday, this topic is discussed openly in ANC circles.

There is suddenly increased discussion about Zuma's role in the liberation struggle, with some questioning whether it wasn't Zuma himself - instead of Ramathlodi and Nyanda - who could have been compromised in the dangerous and explosive struggle years.

This despite the fact that it was Zuma who headed up Project Bible - an attempt to smoke out traitors during the exile years.

Incidents 40 years ago are being raked over in discussion forums where former senior ANC and MK veterans are suddenly starting to question Zuma's role in incidents and operations - and his role in ANC camps in Angola are being re-examined.

Former ANC operatives now comfortably declare that Zuma has always exaggerated his role as "head of intelligence".

Zuma's struggle role is often used to illustrate how he has mastered the dark arts of espionage and counterintelligence. And by all accounts he was an imposing figure on the struggle landscape in the late 1980s and was part of the forward deployment of ANC leaders to apartheid South Africa in early 1990.

But when negotiations started in earnest in late 1990 and 1991 - formal and clandestine - it was Joe Nhlanhla who spoke on behalf of ANC intelligence structures. Former operatives in the then National Intelligence say although Zuma was considered an important figure in 1990, when it came to intelligence matters, he wasn't the go-to guy - Nhlanhla (who became deputy and later minister of intelligence) was.

This accords with Cronin's view that ANC leaders had of Zuma and explains his anger at being removed as ANC intelligence chief at the party's first conference since unbanning in 1991 in Durban (on Monday Zuma explained his removal was part of the grand conspiracy against him hatched and managed by hostile intelligence services).

Zuma's worldview - of plots and conspiracies, Western interference, poisonings and assassinations - is borne out of the justified paranoia during the struggle, where the levels of infiltration into ANC structures by apartheid agents were high. But the ANC, by all accounts (such as in historian Stephen Ellis' book ) often did not properly evaluate intelligence and information. And those shortcomings sometimes led to wrongful accusations of spying and subsequent assassinations, such as the wrongful killing of Ben Langa in 1984.

Former NI operatives, who worked closely with Nhlanhla and his colleagues and were involved in the transition period, say those levels of ANC paranoia about plots and conspiracies became part of the firmament of the new National Intelligence Agency after 1994, where hunches and suspicions - rather than tested and evaluated intelligence - became the basis on which many decisions were taken.

In his seminal biography of former president Thabo Mbeki, Mark Gevisser wrote in about the Hefer commission that was established to investigate allegations that former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid spy. The claims emanated from close Zuma allies Mac Maharaj and Moe Shaik.

"Mbeki's appointment of the Hefer Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegation against Ngcuka was a stroke of genius: it humiliated Maharaj and Shaik, and created a public drama, played out on South Africa's television screens like a daily soap, calculated precisely to show South Africa what happens to intemperate old comrades who cry impimpi, and to nip in the bud any future impulses to do the same."

Zuma didn't take a leaf from this book. The price will be his to pay.

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