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Puzzle of the bogus ‘HSRC’ research

Bogus questionnaires bearing the name of the Human Sciences Research Council are being used by a shadowy group, apparently linked to state intelligence, to extract information from trade unions. The revelations have caused embarrassment to the HSRC.  whose president, Johan Garbers, said  he  was "very worried and upset" about the situation. Garbers said the HSRC was considering taking out large advertisements dissociating the council from the questionnaires. The fraud was discovered when two union members were approached independently by two people, both with   the   surname,   "Stevens", and both operating from the same phone number.

One, "Renee Stevens" claimed to be from the HSRC, administering a questionnaire on the research organisation' s behalf. The other,  "Collin Stevens", wrote a letter to a shop steward, stating frankly that he represented  "the intelligence service” and was  "directly employed by the government". Last month Hassan Amra, a Chemical   Workers   Industrial   Union   organiser, was phoned by "Renee" who said she was doing a survey for the HSRC and wanted to interview him. She claimed to be employed on a freelance basis by the HSRC; that the questionnaire dealt with labour matters and was very confidential and that she had obtained his name from the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

After discussions with colleagues, Amra told her that he wanted to see the questionnaire first. A few days later she dropped off the nine-page questionnaire, which has an authentic HSRC cover. It asks about the respondent's "objectivity" and "self-image", and whether respondents see themselves as"conformist/revolutionist? (why)" and whether they are "socialist/ capitalist? (why)". It asks how the respondent sees the role of whites in unions ("advisory, participating, dominating, academic, research") and adds: "Can whites play a major role in non-white un­ ions? (numbers)". Other questions include: "Should management be allowed to consult with security forces?"; "Should unions be involved with banned organisations?", "Should management consult with banned organisations?" and "Should unions support the idea of violence?".

The survey purports to be conducted by "Labco" and a box number and phone number are given. Union investigations indicate the box number was applied for by someone giving a non-existent   address. Amra decided the questionnaire was suspicious, and his suspicions were confirmed when he saw a letter from a self­ confessed representative of the "intelligence service" to another unionist. This letter, asking Amra's colleague to become a "conversation partner", gave the same telephone number as the questionnaire, and was signed by "Collin Stevens".

Calls to the phone number have resulted in a variety of responses. On one occasion, there was a denial that either Re­nee or Collin was there; later it was said that Renee had left the country. The Collin Stevens letter to Amra's colleague began with a statement by the writer that he was "a member of the 'system'," that he represented the intelligence service, was employed by the government, and that he wanted to establish "a professional relationship" with the unionist, "as a knowledgeable person in the labour field – on the basis of openness, mutual trust and possible mutual interest". He said "the intelligence service" had the task of advising the government on how to "avoid and rectify issues, injustices, errors and grievances in the country. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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Carmel Rickard
Guest Author

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