The President of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has acknowledged that agents irregularly recruited, appointed and armed by the State Security Agency could have played a role in the strategic economic sabotage of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng during the failed July insurrection. He also spoke about a process of “intense investigation” going forward.
This was the first public indication that a “discreet and private” force, hand-picked by Thulani Dlomo, former head of the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) Special Operations Unit (SOU) and accountable only to former president Jacob Zuma, had not been decommissioned or tracked despite exposure of its existence.
It would suggest the private (paid for by public money, however) armed militia was still operational prior to and during the nine days of chaotic violence that gripped KZN and Gauteng.
On Thursday, the Zondo Commission heard that the canning of Project Veza – an attempt to clean up the SSA – by Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo, as well as recently retired domestic head of intelligence, Mahlodi Muofhe, had resulted in these agents and arms, including automatic weapons, remaining outside the control and authority of the state.
“It is not unreasonable, therefore, to propose any failures at the heels of SSA in July 2021 were a logical and predictable outcome of 12 years of mismanagement and corruption, and a redirection of resources away from the true objective of the people as a whole, to service narrow and private interests,” evidence leader advocate Paul Pretoruis put it to the president.
“It is not an unreasonable proposition,” Ramaphosa replied.
“There was a lapse and we now need to investigate and find out how it happened and how it manifested itself,” said the president.
It would be safe to assume that Dlodlo’s departure from the Cabinet is partly linked to the fatal failure of the country’s intelligence agencies to predict and prevent the over 300 deaths and around R50-billion lost to the economy as a result of the public violence.
Evidence was led on Thursday that soon after acting SSA Director-General Loyiso Jafta had testified at the commission in January 2021 (against the wishes of Dlodlo), his contract was not renewed when it came to an end.
Jafta provided explosive evidence that Project Veza, an investigation initiated after his appointment as acting DG in 2018, had turned up billions of rands, either in cash or assets, that could not be accounted for by the SSA.
Jafta testified to staggering amounts of cash being carted out of the SSA’s headquarters in Pretoria, particularly in December 2017, the same month the life-and-death ANC leadership battle played out at its 54th elective conference at Nasrec.
Back then, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, reading aloud from Jafta’s statement, began listing amounts allocated to “operations” by the SSA during that period.
“R19-million, date given 15 December 2017. Then it says ‘collected R5-million’, R1.9-million, R900,000, R360,000. 18 December, R2.5-million, R2-million, R2.4-million, R1-million, R13,000, R1.3-million… cash just gets dished out!” Zondo looked up from the horror sheet.
Ramaphosa appointed Muofhe, with concurrence by Dlodlo, as head of domestic intelligence in August 2019. Muofhe retired from the position at the end of July and it remains vacant.
On Thursday, evidence was led that Operation Veza had uncovered a list of names of agents and co-workers illegally appointed by Dlomo and the SOU, but that this was placed “under lock and key” by Dlodlo and Muofhe.
Also two witnesses, investigators attached to Project Veza, had been “taken off their jobs” after they had given evidence to the commission.
As a result, none of these agents was recalled and lethal weapons that had been requested by the Chief Directorate of Special Operations in 2014 and 2015 remained unaccounted for.
Pretorius opined that it would be “very sad” if any relationship could be plotted between this list of “operatives in projects related to presidential security” as well as the arms released into circulation ahead of July’s violence.
Pretorius suggested to the head of state that there must have been more than enough evidence prior to July to indicate the threat to the integrity of the state.
He suggested that the failure to act on this “is not a lapse… it is not a mistake, it is complicit action by a vast number of senior members in the executive”.
To which Ramaphosa replied that the country had “been through a period of State Capture” which had “debilitated a number of state institutions”.
While the SSA was one of these, he was compelled to respond that there were “a number of really good people who are there who serve the interests of our country and advance its developmental path”.
“But we must admit, it was one of those agencies that was compromised and operating under the milieu of State Capture and all these things that the evidence leader is asking about.
“It happened. Our task now as we move forward is to correct all those and to root out the malfeasance and the corruption.”
Ramaphosa admitted that the implementation of the 2018 High-Level Review Panel (HLRP) report into the State Security Agency had been “rather poor and is now going to gain momentum”, no doubt sending a rush of blood to the heads of those who have been implicated.
These include former Minister of State Security David Mahlobo and former SSA DG Arthur Fraser (both continue to serve in the government).
The president said the shifting of the SSA into the presidency and the appointment of Dr Sydney Mufamadi, who chaired the HLRP, as security adviser “will help to reposition and rally the state agency”.
“We have gone through a horrible past… the future that beckons is one that will be a lot more different,” he promised.
Pretorius reminded the president that the State Security Agency and the security establishment was a vital asset that existed to protect the people of South Africa, and not those of the party or the state.
He noted that investigations into those who had been involved in criminal conduct had been buried for years. This included allegations and investigations into former SSA DG, Arthur Fraser, who continued to serve “without consequence”. Fraser was appointed DG of Correctional Services in 2018.
“It is not something that could have gone unnoticed to those in power,” said Pretorius.
Ramaphosa said documents relating to Project Veza had been secured and were in “safekeeping” and they would now form part of a process of “intense investigation” going forward.
Pretorius reminded the president that the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) had heard a full presentation of matters relating to the agency, but had failed to call the two investigators who were part of Project Veza.
“It seems that even at the level of the JSCI there is an attempt to bury or push aside evidence that is truly embarrassing for the state,” Pretorius pushed back.
Ramaphosa responded that he had not been “alive” to this specific incident but that, flowing from the work of the Zondo Commission, “we look to a future where what the commission has unravelled and found will be dealt with and has to be dealt with, otherwise this has been a wasted effort”.
The president admitted on Thursday that law enforcement agencies had been captured and that the resulting damage had weakened capacity and the rule of law.