Security agency

Inside Busisiwe Mkhwebane State Security Agency…

Busisiwe Mkhwebane, like former President Jacob Zuma, is accused of having played a decisive role in the seizure of the South African state by a faction of the ANC loyal to the “political project” of the former president.

Three witnesses testified during the landmark parliamentary Section 194 inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness for office that she brought a sense of urgency to the job and had a clear vision of what she hoped to achieve during his non-renewable seven-year term.

Mkhwebane’s move from the State Security Agency (SSA) to the Public Protector of South Africa (PPSA) had been reported by opposition parties, the DA as well as the EFF, prior to his appointment, but she was a shoo-in nonetheless, thanks to ANC members.

This week, we learned how the Public Protector (PP) was “leading from the front” and was “a tough workhorse who would need someone to go above and beyond the call of duty”, according to his former head of security, Baldwin Neshunzhi, who gave evidence.

Mkhwebane, it appeared, also manipulated and betrayed officials close to her.

Futana Tebele, a senior official in the PP office, and who had previously sung his praises, was confronted on the day of her testimony with a text message, allegedly from Mkhwebane to the new COO Basani Baloyi, that Tebele was ” not trustworthy”. .

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane with witness Sphelo Samuel (far right) at the Vrede Dairy project. (Photo: provided)

Free State head of the PP office, Sphelo Samuel, after being told for most of the day by lawyer Dali Mpofu, acting for Mkhwebane, that she denied ever attending a site visit of the Vrede Dairy project linked to Gupta, produced a photograph as evidence.

In it, Mkhwebane, wearing baby pink Valentino studs to match his suit, is seen standing next to Samuel.

Neshunzhi also found himself stranded when the PP enlisted the help of SSA chief executive Arthur Fraser to sideline Neshunzhi.

Neshunzhi had applied for the job in 2017, “just like anyone else”, and had been involved in business before his appointment to the PPSA.

But when he was wrongly blamed for leaks from the office, Mkhwebane in 2018 recommended that he be removed from his post and “recalled” for further training by the SSA.

However, Neshunzhi told the inquest that he had nothing to do with the SSA prior to his appointment. It was Mkhwebane who assumed he did.

Although the SSA training did not take place, Neshunzhi was transferred to customer services before being sent on “gardening leave”.

Fraser was transferred to Corrections in April 2018. He was ‘redeployed’ after unprecedented legal action by Inspector General (IG) of Intelligence Setlhomamaru Dintwe, who turned to court when Fraser revoked his top-secret clearance.

Dintwe was investigating the deployment of SSA agents to ANC party political meetings from 2014 to 2017 and Fraser himself for his role in the Principal Agent Network programme. It was in fact a parallel network of non-state intelligence in the service of Jacob Zuma.

Court documents from the former IG also described a series of stonewalling, delays and apparent attempts by Fraser to starve the office of funding needed for its oversight work.

As recently as 2019, Fraser himself, already National Commissioner of Corrections, personally called Neshunzhi to inform him that the PP had complained to him about his “lack of support”.

Even off duty, Fraser apparently kept his shackles on.

A highly secure office

The committee heard this week how Mkhwebane became a highly secure office, with Fraser and other SSA officials in regular contact with the PP and other senior PPSA officials.

The SSA was also in the process of developing computer systems for the PP Office, but these had proven to be too expensive.

Under Thuli Madonsela’s tenure, security screening came to a halt, a process Mkhwebane initiated upon his arrival. All staff needed to be reviewed and Neshunzhi spearheaded this.

It was during this process that CEO Vussy Mahlangu’s lack of top-secret clearance came to light.

This week, Tebele defended Mkhwebane, saying she was determined to see results, “especially in the backlog of cases”, and not leave “a mess” for her successor.

One such case was filed in 2011 by lawyer Paul Hoffman, president of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa.

Hoffman’s original complaint had sought an investigation into a government deal with CIEX, a secret UK investigative body, in relation to his 1997 investigation into the Reserve Bank’s 1992 $1.2 billion bailout of Bankorp. rands.

Zuma unleashes political chaos

Outside the offices of the PP, the political milieu was about to change drastically when in March 2017, with Mkhwebane in the saddle for only five months, President Jacob Zuma plunged the country into political chaos, dismissing the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan in a firm overnight. purge.

It was a shot through the barricades.

Two months later, in June, Mkhwebane published the now infamous recommendation in his CIEX report for a constitutional amendment to change the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB).

That same month, the Sarb had fined the Bank of Baroda R11 million, a punishment for a steaming pile of ethical transgressions.

Most notable was the bank’s financing of the purchase of a home for President Jacob Zuma’s fourth wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, paid for by the Gupta family through Bank of Baroda accounts.

By April, the country’s four major banks had already cut off the taps of the Gupta family and their business ventures.

An SSA agent, Mahendra Moodley, who had been part of a team working on the PP’s IT package, reportedly provided Mkhwebane at the time with the text to be inserted in his CIEX report, which related to the proposed modification of the Constitution. .

Lead Investigator Tebogo Kekana testified that in May 2017, an email from Mkhwebane asked “the SSA to provide information and an economist [sic] amend the constitutional mandate of the Reserve Bank of South Africa”.

It was Moodley who had provided this “entry”.

This email had not been disclosed as part of the judicial review of the report, which was ruled invalid and overturned in August 2017. It is a decision upheld by the Constitutional Court in July 2019.

Kekana said Mkhwebane met with Fraser, SSA chief James Rabulana and later State Security Minister David Mahlobo over the CIEX report, and was also asked not to not record this meeting.

The 2018 high-level panel review of the SSA later revealed that Fraser, along with former state security ministers David Mahlobo and Bongani Bongo, attempted to drive a dystopian “2035 vision” for the agency. It was with Zuma’s blessing.

One of the objectives of this new agency was to host and have access to all the databases of the ministries.

The fact that the SSA was already working on an IT project for the independent Chapter 9 institution indicates that it is an attempt to put this goal in place.

Later, when Mkhwebane first approached the Western Cape High Court to stave off her impending impeachment hearing and suspension, she claimed the CIEX report marked ‘the beginning’ of her ‘problems’. .

She was targeted, she said, “for pursuing the powerful and the untouchable.”

In 2018, Mkhwebane produced the now notorious and discredited blunt political instrument, the “SARS Rogue Unit” report deployed to hunt down Gordhan as well as former SARS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay and former head of the Investigations Unit. high-risk Johan van Loggerenberg.

Legal fees that cost millions

Justice in this case cost millions as officials were entangled in endless trials, appeals and delays.

Mkhwebane has spent a total of R67,122,771 on legal fees to fight the parliamentary inquiry into presidential impeachment and suspension over the past two years – R38,878,530 in the 2020/21 financial year and R28,244 R241 in 2021/22.

The taps have now been turned off on the office’s payment of its High Court challenge to the impeachment inquiry.

The intimate relationship between the PP, the SSA and Arthur Fraser (who is currently celebrated by many for revealing an alleged cover-up of a burglary at President Cyril Ramaphosa Phala Phala’s private game farm) was made visible this week.

Fraser, who granted Zuma an illegal medical parole in September 2021, left a wide and deep SSA footprint on the PP office.

Even after he left to lead the Correctional Services, he became involved in the affairs of the PPSA.

It was Fraser who on June 1 filed a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa for the alleged theft of “more than four million US dollars” concealed “from the premises of the President’s Phala Phala Farm in Waterberg, Limpopo”.

For an institution whose primary concern should be mandatory protection of the public from official abuse, the emphasis on classification, secrecy and collaboration with the SSA reeks of political gasoline.

It was the PP, the inquiry also heard, that had ordered that the names of ANC politicians – Free State Prime Minister Ace Magashule and MEC for Agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane – not appear in its report on the Vrede/Estina Dairy project linked to Gupta.

Mkhwebane was suspended by Ramaphosa on June 9. The day before, on June 8, she had launched an investigation into the president after a complaint filed by the African Transformation Movement in relation to the burglary.

Aluta continues. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168, which is available nationwide for R25.