Shades of Watergate in Cape government

Western Cape gangs held more sophisticated

”bosberade” than the provincial government itself did, the Desai Commission heard on Thursday.

Former provincial director general Dr Niel Barnard told the commission that he recalled a briefing from provincial police commissioner Lennit Max in which he said that the gangs even hired consultants for advice, and had very sophisticated technical apparatus.

Barnard was being cross-examined on his reasons for ordering the creation of the secure ”bunker” in a former safe in the provincial building, where the controversial Watchdog anti-bugging device was installed.

He said the activities of gangs and drug smugglers had led to deaths in the province, and his own life had on more than one occasion been threatened in anonymous telephone calls.

He said there were no indications that his offices had been bugged, but there had been ”meddling” with his computer from outside — an incident traced to the province’s internal audit component.

On one occasion an unauthorised person had entered his office at night and fiddled with papers on his desk.

After these incidents, a special defensive programme was installed on his computer, and an electronic card system with a camera was set up to control access to the suite.

Barnard said some of the province’s politicians — he recalled then-premier Gerald Morkel, and MECs Peter Marais, Cecil Herandien and Hennie Bester — had also expressed concern over leakage of information from cabinet meetings.

There was no doubt that details of discussions in the cabinet room had afterwards appeared in the media.

Under questioning by the commission’s leader of evidence Craig Webster, Barnard said the Watchdog could have been installed in the cabinet room itself, but a completely secure environment would have also required strict 24-hour access control.

This was not the case with the cabinet room.

To the best of his knowledge, only three meetings took place in the room — one between him and two advisers on gang activities and leaks in the SA Police Service; a second one between himself and two administration officials on the implications of political changes in the province for the administration; and a third involving himself, Morkel and two other MECs.

The subject of the third meeting had also been the effect of the political turmoil.

Barnard said that although the subject had been sensitive, he had also wanted to show off the facility to the politicians.

He denied ”absolutely categorically” that the information unit he established, largely with former members of the apartheid-era security services, was set up to fill gaps in the service offered by the National Intelligence Agency.

The Public Service Act set directors-general a statutory obligation on information management, and he believed it would be good for South Africa if each province and department had such a unit.

Several provinces had approached him asking to send staff to learn from the Western Cape’s unit. – Sapa

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Ben Maclennan
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