The President’s Keepers: Book Preview
On Sunday night, 27 August 2017, my laptop and cellphone were stolen from my office at our restaurant and guesthouse in Riebeek-Kasteel in the Western Cape. Despondency and dread engulfed me when I walked into the room and was confronted by a computer cable and nothing more. A small window bordering Van Riebeek Street stood open. I was initially calm, and walked to the bar and poured myself a stiff brandy and Coke. Then I went back to the office and phoned one of my sources.
“What was on the laptop?”
“How do you mean, everything?”
The whole book. And notes, documents, reports, names, telephone numbers, everything.”
“Is it password-protected?”
“Have you backed it up?”
“Some. Not everything.”
“Is my name somewhere there?”
“I don’t think so but I’m not sure.”
Moments of silence before the source spoke: “You realise we’re fucked.”
“Do you think it’s them?”
“Without a doubt.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“This is exactly how they do it. It’s a warning.”
Composure gave way to panic and horror. I was convinced that someone from crime intelligence, the Hawks or the State Security Agency had nicked my laptop and cellphone. My sources would be exposed. I would be arrested. State lawyers would try to stop the book.
Towards the end of 2009, internal State Security Agency (SSA) auditors descended on the Route 21 office complex near Irene, south of Pretoria. The NIA had just been restructured by security minister Siyabonga Cwele and was now known as the SSA. The target of the auditors was the operational headquarters of the Principal Agent Network (PAN) programme, a top-secret state intelligence programme that had guzzled as much as a billion rand of taxpayers’ money in just three years.
When the auditors arrived, expenditure files were stacked in the boardroom, at the ready for their scrutiny. What the auditors didn’t know was that the boardroom was bugged and kitted out with concealed cameras. In the room next door, PAN agents and managers were surveying the auditors as they sifted through invoices, contracts, payment requests and much, much more.
The PAN agents had much to lose. For three years, they had almost carte blanche to throw public money at a range of gagged-up projects, which they named “Easimix” (concerned with the “old guard”), “Émigré” (concerned with immigrants), “Media Production” (the influence of the media), “Vodka” (Russian activities), “Pack” (Pakistani nationals), “Psycho” (“concerned with psychological assistance to PAN”), the ominous-sounding “Crims” (working on “political intelligence”), “Kwababisa” (Alexandra township mafia, Gauteng provincial government and corruption) and the ominous “SO” (political intelligence and organised crime).
The only project that was probably worth anything was “Mechanic”, because PAN had purchased 293 cars – ranging from BMWs, Audis and Golf GTIs to smaller sedans – for their 72 agents, which they stored in three warehouses across the country that had been leased for R24 million. They also leased and purchased properties for R48 million and imported three “technical surveillance vehicles” from the UK for more than R40 million. And this was just a drop in the ocean.
The auditors at Route 21 had hit upon enough discrepancies and scams to report back to their superiors that the PAN programme was riddled with wastage, corruption and nepotism and warranted a full-scale investigation. One of the reasons why the PAN spooks were caught with their pants on their knees was that they had done a dismal job at covering their tracks.
Sometime later, a disgruntled PAN agent handed the auditors CCTV camera footage of their audit. A PAN surveillance technician who had been instructed to plant cameras in the boardroom to monitor the audit installed them the previous night but forgot to switch them off after he’d tested the system. The footage showed how agents worked through the night in order to generate invoices and documentation for the audit the next day. They also shredded records they didn’t want the auditors to see. Agents manufactured documents by copying and pasting signatures. In their haste to deceive the auditors and with the clock ticking away, they put documents in the wrong files, accidentally shredded some of the manufactured papers and got everything all mixed up.
The auditors found devastating evidence in the files and were at the PAN offices for four days. When they left to report back to their director-general, the lid had been lifted on corruption and wasteful expenditure that far exceeded the shenanigans at President Zuma’s private homestead of Nkandla.
But this was, after all, the hazy world of smoke and mirrors that they call state security, where the Intelligence Act is manipulated to shield marauders and veil miscreants.
A few days after the audit, the SSA’s head of domestic intelligence, Gibson Njenje, called a meeting of his legal advisers in his plush office at the agency’s headquarters. The complex, known as Musanda, is top secret and the public is not allowed to know how many people work there or how much money those in pursuit of state security drain from the fiscus every year. To the public, all that is visible of Musanda – affectionately known as “the Farm” by those who have basked in her veiled glory – is a sprawl of buildings with an array of satellite ears that point skywards.
Among those who attended Njenje’s meeting were the head of the agency’s legal department, Kobus Meiring, and SSA advocate Paul Engelke.
Meiring was an intelligence old-timer with an impeccable record and more than thirty years in the service. Engelke had vast experience as a prosecutor at the NPA, was an advocate in private practice and had served seven years at state intelligence. Both Meiring and Engelke had a top- secret clearance.
Njenje had only recently assumed leadership of the domestic branch of the SSA and was largely unaware of PAN, which resided under the Covert Support Unit (CSU) and ultimately under the director of operations. The first warning that public money was being shovelled into a black hole emerged when the CSU overspent its budget and PAN agents threatened the agency with legal action for not getting paid.
The polite and reserved Njenje was an intelligence legend, albeit a controversial one. An Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran, he was appointed by President Thabo Mbeki as NIA head of operations but was then suspended, along with spy boss Billy Masetlha, in 2005. This followed an investigation by the inspector-general of intelligence, who found that Njenje had acted inappropriately after spying on Saki Macozoma, ANC National Executive Committee member and Mbeki confidant, as part of a political intelligence-gathering exercise called Project Avani. It included hoax e-mails designed to suggest a plot against Zuma to prevent him from running for the presidency. Njenje initially tried to challenge the suspension, but resigned after reaching a settlement with intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils.
When Zuma became president in 2009, it was payback time and he appointed Njenje as the director-general for domestic intelligence at the SSA. There was unhappiness in some government and ANC quarters about Njenje’s appointment. He was prior to his official posting a founder member and director of Bosasa, a facilities management company that, according to a Special Investigating Unit report, was corruptly awarded multimillion-rand tenders by the prisons department.
Njenje told Meiring and Engelke that he wanted them to investigate the PAN programme as it might have gone rogue, misappropriated millions and even endangered the safety of the state. He said that security minister Siyabonga Cwele had given the go-ahead for a full investigation.
Engelke was appointed team leader and was joined by a senior auditor and a human resources official. They in turn reported to Meiring. The investigation was top secret and on a strictly “need-to-know” basis.
The PAN programme was the brainchild of Njenje’s predecessor, the director-general Manala Manzini, and his deputy and national operations director, Arthur Fraser. Manzini was eager to expand and enhance the NIA’s covert collection capacity. He shared this with Fraser, who concocted the PAN programme.
Fraser suggested that PAN employ NIA members who would resign or take severance packages, former NIA members, members from other government departments who would resign, and new recruits from the private sector. They submitted their plan to the minister of intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, who agreed with the concept of the network as it was traditionally understood. A principal agent network is intelligence jargon for spy handlers (the principals) who engage, manage and deploy spies (agents) to perform specific services or functions on behalf of the agency. There was nothing cutting-edge about Fraser’s proposal and it should simply have meant the employment of more spies and handlers.
As it later turned out, he may have had something completely different in mind: a parallel and detached intelligence network that operated independently of the NIA. In doing so, Meiring and Engelke later found, Fraser may have committed treason.
Jane Duncan says in her book The Rise of the Securocrats that intelligence services ballooned in the early 2000s under the ministerial direction of Lindiwe Sisulu, Kasrils’s predecessor. She contended that NIA needed more resources and capabilities and should be expanded. This proliferation coincided with the issuing of a directive by the Presidency requiring an expansion of the NIA’s mandate in 2003 to include political and economic intelligence. A host of new spies and agents were appointed.
The ministry of intelligence concluded in 2007 that there were no serious threats to the country’s constitutional order, although organised crime remained a concern, as did the need to secure major events such as the upcoming 2010 World Cup. There was also no indication that South Africa was either a major target of or safe haven for terrorists or religious fanatics. Why, then, was there a need for a further expansion of the NIA? Was the PAN programme truly to the benefit of national security, or did its architects and proponents have ulterior motives?
The President’s Keepers Book Review by Jacques Pauw (Tafelberg)
When Jacob Zuma was elevated to president-in-waiting, a columnist consoled readers by opining that Zuma’s “minders” would keep him under control. What we have instead is a president who maintains, at our huge expense, a pack of devoted dogs whom he unleashes to do his bidding.
This is an astounding book: astounding in what Pauw has managed to uncover; in the speed with which he has compiled his findings into easily comprehensible sections; and in the tenacity, courage and insight which Pauw displays.
The book concentrates on Zuma Incorporated – the President’s personal history, his profligacy, his incompetence in all matters of finance and administration, his disregard for his constitutional role, his disregard for his responsibility to the electorate and the impoverished, and his political astuteness. He is a survivor and relies on those who are equally venal. It does appear that he will occasionally have one or other of the dogs “put down”, but only if inflicts injuries too carelessly and publicly.
There are various horror stories in this book. The appointment of loyalist Tom Moyane to head the most respected of our public service institutions, SARS, and the subsequent hounding out of the most able and dedicated of the professionals, must rank as the worst. I say “the worst” because the health of the country depends on good tax administration and because SARS had easily the best record of uncovering corruption and of successful prosecutions. This is no longer the case. Gangsters have had their dockets disappear. Politicians, including the President, can ignore the rules that bind ordinary citizens. The Guptas could jump the queue for a refund, and get it in a week, paid into an illicit account, while others, beyond suspicion, wait for months or even years.
Then: what about gang warfare on the Cape Flats? Surely not under Zuma’s watch? The fact is that the most able, professional and experienced officers in the Western Cape SAPS were sidelined because they were actually getting illicit guns off the streets. Gang lords simply don’t like their territory messed with. Major-General Jeremy Veary was once in exile on Robben Island. He is a dedicated policeman. He just did not know when to pursue criminals and when not to, apparently.
The law-enforcement agencies are in total disarray: we know that from daily experiences and observations of crime around us. How this has come about is one of the themes of this book. The consistent dismantling of working structures, the removal of the professional and efficient and the astonishing waste of our money on special units, including family members who, with no qualifications, become high-ranking and highly-paid officers. Ever heard of Major-General Dumuzweni Anthony Zimu? You had better read up about him, because you are paying him and his cohort enormous salaries and providing a fleet of luxury cars for his use.
The National Prosecuting Authority is not headed by one of Zuma’s bloodhounds, but by a sheep-like creature. A sheepdog would have at least been more credible. In this account is also the tragic story of Zuma stalwarts Jiba and Mrwebi, disbarred but still on the payroll of the NPA. How does such a crucial institution fulfil its role in making this a safer, more democratic, more egalitarian society under these conditions? Put simply, it does not.
The greatest single merit of this book for me is that it provides a map that helps me to understand the many news items and reports over the past seven or eight years. On this map, I can see Marikana and the roads leading to it and from it. I can trace the inroads of the Guptas, their mines and their businesses. I can put in perspective the Aurora mine and Zuma’s morally and physically gross nephew; even the Rodavan Kreijcirs, the Agliottis, the illicit cigarette manufacturers, and the present and future roles of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
What will happen now? This could be a watershed in our political history.
This book put me in mind of the dialogue in Macbeth between mother and son, after his father had been killed:
Prince: What is a traitor?
Lady MacDuff: Why, one that swears and lies.
Prince: And be all traitors that so do?
Lady MacDuff: Everyone that does so is a traitor and must be hanged.
Prince: And must they all be hanged that swear and lie?
Lady MacDuff: Every one.
Prince: Who must hang them?
Lady MacDuff: Why, the honest men.
Prince: Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them.