Spy-war e-mails: What they really say

At the watershed meeting of the African National Congress’s national executive committee (NEC) over the weekend of November 18 to 20—held to discuss the conflict between President Thabo Mbeki and his former deputy Jacob Zuma—secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe handed out dozens of bound copies of a remarkable document.

It consisted of 73 pages purporting to be e-mail messages and chat-room exchanges between senior ANC politicians, members of the National Prosecuting Authority and white media personalities and opposition figures.

The exchanges essentially purport to illustrate a political conspiracy led by a Xhosa cabal, assisted by white reactionaries in the Scorpions, media and opposition. The alleged “cabal’s” purported aim is the destruction of Zuma and any other powerful figure who stands in the way of its political objectives, most notably Motlanthe himself and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director general Billy Masetlha.

Motlanthe’s decision to put this document before the ruling party’s highest decision-making body was audacious, because its content is obviously both highly defamatory and deeply flawed.
In correspondence allegedly between senior ANC figures, Motlanthe’s name is systematically misspelt.

By handing the e-mails to the NEC, Motlanthe was openly flouting the official line. Already on October 23, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils had issued a public statement, warning against “sinister e-mails” doing the rounds, labelling them “clearly fraudulent” and “reminiscent of Stratcom operations during the apartheid era”.

Kasrils said the inspector general of intelligence had been asked to investigate the origin of these e-mails, which were “obviously not genuine correspondence between the individuals concerned”. He dismissed them as “crude, sinister and clearly fake”, but of concern given the damage they could cause if believed.

That was three days after Kasrils suspended Masetlha, Lizo Njenje and Bob Mhlanga—the top three figures in the NIA—for an allegedly unlawful surveillance exercise against businessman Saki Macozoma, whom the e-mails portray as the kingpin of the political conspiracy.

And on November 6, Kasrils had, in accepting Njenje’s resignation, underlined that he accepted Njenje was “not involved in the bogus and defamatory e-mails currently doing the rounds”, and further implying that these were part of a conspiracy to discredit the government.


So Motlanthe distributed his document in defiance of conventional wisdom. However, in the discussion that followed, there were clearly enough resonances between what the document contains and the perceptions of NEC members for Macozoma to mount a fierce defence of himself. The Sunday Times quoted an NEC member as saying he “fought like a lion”.

In the end, the NEC resolved that there was no conspiracy against Zuma originating from within the ANC, though he might have been subjected to what it called “hostile action by forces opposed to the National Democratic Revolution”. In this regard, it shifted the suspicion about the origin of the e-mails to “reactionary forces”, which, the party noted, had historically used whispering campaigns as devices “to disrupt and destroy progressive movements worldwide”.

This conclusion, which shifted blame outside the ANC, was convenient, but is entirely unsupported by the facts that have come to light so far.

Firstly, all those individuals who have so far been investigated in connection with the e-mails are black men with close ties to the ANC. They include Mhlanga, Funi Madlala (a manager in the NIA’s cyber unit) and businessman Muzi Kunene, who is alleged to have some knowledge of the creation of the e-mails.

Both Madlala and Kunene have been arrested for failing to cooperate with the investigation launched by the inspector general into the origin of the e-mails. Madlala has been charged under the Intelligence Services Oversight Act, while Kunene has not been formally charged and this week applied to the Pretoria High Court for the withdrawal of the warrant for his arrest. (See accompanying story.)


But at the top of the list is Masetlha, whose legal challenge of his suspension has exposed information suggesting the e-mails are related to a formal NIA project—even if they are false or intentionally distorted.

Documents placed before the high court revealed that the investigation of the e-mails took place in the context of a broader investigation by the inspector general into an NIA project dubbed Avani. They reveal further that the day before his suspension, Masetlha provided a progress report on Avani to Mbeki and his Director General, Frank Chikane.

The documents do not detail what Avani was, but the Mail & Guardian has been told by intelligence sources that it comprised an investigation into ANC factions, and that Masetlha’s progress report to the president dealt with the allegation of a political conspiracy against Zuma.

This suggests that Masetlha was either blowing the whistle on genuine intelligence regarding the conspiracy Zuma’s supporters have long complained of, or conducting a sophisticated smear campaign in support of Zuma. A cursory glance at the e-mails suggests the latter. And that is the message Kasrils and Mbeki want to convey.

In a speech to intelligence personnel gathered for Intelligence Services Day on November 24, Mbeki referred to “various disturbing matters” that had emerged concerning the NIA. He warned that the intelligence services must not carry out operations intended to “undermine, promote or influence any political party, faction or organisation at the expense of another”.

But the situation may not be as clear-cut as a surface reading of the e-mails suggests.

Firstly, mixing fiction with fact for a particular impact is a well-known intelligence technique. An intelligence analyst sympathetic to Masetlha notes that the insertion of patent nonsense among facts both helps disguise the origin of the information and helps protect those who are putting it into the public realm.

It is far more difficult to prove or even suggest that Masetlha, for instance, is the source of the information contained in the e-mails, when much of it contains obvious nonsense that cannot credibly be laid at his door.

The nonsense they contain makes the e-mails publicly deniable for both sides. Even if some of it is true, the players involved will know—and the dissemination of tainted information will carry with it the threat of more accurate and damaging disclosures.

Whether this is the case in this instance is not clear. But either way, the e-mails are evidence of a high-level conspiracy: either against Zuma if they are even partially true, or against Mbeki if they are false. The struggle to determine which of these alternatives represents the true picture—or to explore the possibility there is both a conspiracy and counter-conspiracy—is a matter of intense public interest.

The ‘death knell of Zuluboy’

The following are extracts from the alleged e-mail exchanges, with, in some instances, the names of the alleged senders deleted. In publishing them, the Mail & Guardian in no way implies that they are authentic communications.

Bulelani Ngcuka and Saki Macozoma, February 6 2005

Subject: the death knell

BN: Hi Saki, as you have probably seen we are making sure that the Zulu bastard is nailed to the cross ... Have you managed to raise that cash for me, I am really in need of that money. My work circumstances are changing, and I’m in serious need of cash.

SM: Hi Bulelani ... The team will never forget your efforts at getting that Zulu fool out of the way, However your job will not be done until you have delivered him to jail or out of the ANC and the government. You really need to assist Pikoli ... As promised you will be well compensated for the job. Your wife will get the promotion and your kids will be taken care of ... What more do you need.

BN: Saki, this is however very unfair. How on earth can I only live on the hope? If Phumzile gets the position that’s fine, but its not good enough for me individually. I need cash ... Please Saki, if you don’t have any just speak for me to the Standard Bank and loan me R5 million at least. That would help me with immediate cashflow and catapult me into the business world.

SM: Why are you such a cry baby? You should have finalised serious deals with Vusi as a payback for giving him your position, then he can give you and your boers a lovely security deal. Anyway, I’ll see what I can do.

Macozoma and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, April 20

Subject: Zuluboy

SM: Hi Phumzile, I am thrilled at the way you have handled the whole issue around the above until now ... what you have done in trying to open the eyes of the Women’s League, will never be forgotten.

MN: Hi Saki, thanks. We’ll try and see how we can best serve the course [sic]. However you guys must not forget me when the time is right.

SM: No we won’t, I can you tell [sic] right now that Zuluboy’s position is yours. Remember that these positions come by decree and not via the conferences. You can be assured of the position because the Chief believes in you. Take it as a guaranteed payment for the effort that the Ngcukas made to bring us this far ... Another thing that guarantees you thies [sic] positions is the fact that while you are now one of us, you are of Zulu descent, that makes it impossible to accuse us of tribalism.

Senior presidential official and Macozoma, April 20

Saki, we’re doing our very best. However, we need to tread carefully.

SM: Well, at this pace 2007 will hit and we will not be ready. By the time the NGC arrives we should have got him out of office. The NGC should be used to make sure that he is dead buried and that he has no constituency ... If we fail to do this how are we going to contain Motlantle [sic] Cyril and other hopefuls?

I understand your impatience Saki, however, one of the main issues stressed by the Chief ... is to be thorough in our planning. If we are not we run the risk of handing him the people on a silver platter.

Macozoma and the same official, April 20

SM: I understand that Zuluboy is on his way to Uganda for the Burundi Summit. What are you guys doing about this? Why is this man still going out and about?

I suppose it would be appropriate to say that until the whole plan is finalised, we should let him hang himself.

SM: The monkey is not even on speaking terms with the chief, yet he can go and address a summit outside South Africa, this man should be dead or in prison. ... You guys are letting the chief down, you should work with Frank on this and make sure all his external meetings are scuppered, while the NPA comes up with the final blow.

Chat room with Tony Leon, Matthew Buckland, Gerrie Nel, Izak du Plooy, Johan du Plooy, August 16

IdP: We are about to raid Zuma’s premises, either on wednesday or Thursday. We are going for all his houses as well as his attorney and Mkhize, the MEC for KZN. It will be a spectacle.

TL: Do you have enough manpower to do that?

JdP: We’ll use the “A Team” from the old days and few darkies to sprinkle on. We have suggested that we subcontract and Pikoli listens when we talk as you know.

TL: What about Motlantle [sic]

IdP: His time is coming, Pikoli has given us the green light to “keep him in the news” until we have enough time of effect a raid on him and his comrade Dipico.

MB: We are running a story about him this weekend about his house in the golf course. We need to nail him to the same cross with his financial advisor Majali.

Chat room, same participants, August 27

T: I hear you are being victimised by NIA, what’s going on?

JdP: We have had meetings with them and they are very hostile

IdP: They are very angry about the raids as you know, and are questioning the rationale behind the utilisation of our friends who were contracted.

TL: Do you think they have a leg to stand on?

GN: Netshitenze [sic] has assured us that nothing will happen to us since Mbeki believes in what we do. However I think we need to sort out the NIA bastards.

JdP: We need to find something on Billy Masetla [sic], and get him out of NIA because he is the thorn in our sides.

MB: I’ll check the archives for the time he when he was still at home affairs, maybe there’s something we can get from there. Anything, his personal life, his weaknesses, his bank accounts, etc.

GN: We will get our friends at the ITC to check on that, see if we can’t start harrassing him on things he hasn’t paid yet ... We need something substantial eventually, that would justify a raid. Pikoli would be delighted to go get something and raid and destroy Masetla [sic], he hates him with a vengeance.

Macozoma to Vusi Pikoli, September 12

SM: I had a chat with Bulelani regarding the issues at hand. I think we need to up the tempo on Masetla [sic] given the latest developments ... We are fast getting into trouble that could stall all our plans. What are your boys finding on this guy? He needs to be replaced ASAP!!

VP: As you know I had to take leave and relax a bit from all these pressures. You guys need to help me out here ... [Bulelani Ngcuka] is offering me some shares in Amabubesi.. Should I accept? For now my guys don’t have anything on Masetla. However one of my guys, Nel, has a potential good friend in NIA, in the technology section ... he may be able to assist. I agree that Masetla is becoming a problem. Only you can influence the decision of redeployment with the Chief.

SM: I’m glad you have a potential ally on the inside, Lets use the Boers where we can.

Mlambo-Ngcuka to Macozoma, October 9

MN: Hi Saki. What is your view regarding the Khampepe Commission. Don’t you think we need to reign [sic] in that woman? Would we be able to ensure that this commission has the same result as the Hefer one? I trust your planning abilities but please keep me posted. Do you think we are going to cope with so much on our plate? Zuluboy’s trial is commencing, Masetla [sic] is attacking Vusi’s team, the commission is on, we have the youth league and communists giving us trouble, it looks like we are losing the battle to the populists.

SM: As discussed I have requested Vusi to invite Billy Downer for our meeting some next week for the briefing regarding Zuluboy’s case. As for Masetla [sic], you need to inform me on how things have gone with Ronnie. You have nothing to worry regarding Sisi, she is fully aware that her career depends on the findings ... We cannot allow Selebi to control this team.

Mlambo-Ngcuka to Ronnie Kasrils, October 15

PMN: Hi Ronnie ... There is not much accept [sic] to congratulate you on handling Billy who is fast becoming an uncontrollable bullterrier. You did very well to inform the media and lambaste him in public. He has grown too big for his shoes. How is Leonard doing?

RK: Thanks for that, I really appreciate it. He is becoming a real nuisance now ... Anyway, I am cracking the whip now and we’ll see what happens. I hope you guys won’t mind me using the M&G newspaper, I have some good contacts there. I’ve also sent a statement to Anton Harber, he says he has good contacts within the Sunday Times. I will afford them all the information I can dig out on Billy ... Leonard is ok, he is working hard and will not be disturbed by anyone ... Leonard is also bothered by the fact that Billy knows too much the issue of our overseas friends and our co-operation with them. What is wrong with me organising metings [sic] with Mossad since it is known I am a jew?

Nic Dawes

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