Former apartheid security officials fabricated intelligence reports to get millions of rands from unsuspecting victims, Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele said.
“We have information that they make sure that they instil fear with the sole aim of making money,” he said during a discussion on the controversial Protection of State Information Bill in Durban on Tuesday.
Cwele accused members of the former apartheid national intelligence agency, defence force and the police of being “information peddlers”.
“They take something with a little bit of truth and put false information on it. They then approach you and ask you to contract them to dig more,” he said.
The information peddlers had started by targeting national departments, and had moved to provincial departments and municipalities.
Cwele said those involved in the fabrication of information urged people or institutions they targeted not to rely on state institutions to help them.
“It is a big business and that is one of the things the [Protection of State Information] Bill seeks to address.”
The Bill has come under fire from by the media, opposition parties and trade unions.
Cwele said it was easy for people to fabricate sensitive information with impunity.
The Special Browse “Mole” intelligence report in 2006 was the work of information “peddlers”, he said.
The report claimed that President Jacob Zuma was involved in a conspiracy which was a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the South African state before he became president.
It contained warnings of a foreign-backed plot to bring Zuma to power and the threat of insurrection should he not become president.
“The report was pushed through the Scorpions and was later found [to be a] fabrication,” he said.
Commenting on the fierce opposition against the Bill, Cwele said many changes had been made after concerns were raised about its wide scope.
“We have made a lot of changes. It has now been narrowed to only to security structures such as the police, the SA National Defence Force and Home Affairs information,” he said.
The Bill was not aimed at hiding corruption and muzzling the media.
“The media is an important component in our society. Our department also has no mandate to silence the media.”
The so-called secrecy Bill was adopted with 229 to 107 votes, and two abstentions, by the 400-member chamber and it has been referred to the National Council of Provinces.
“The provinces have been given the opportunity to make some inputs. If there are valuable inputs, the will be considered.”
Cosatu’s main concern with the Bill is that it lacks protection for whistle-blowers who pass on classified documents to expose corruption.
The union federation also supports widespread calls for a public interest defence.
Such a defence would enable people prosecuted for publishing classified information to argue in mitigation that they had done so in the public interest, the union argues.
The Bill also criminalises the possession of classified information by unauthorised people.
Cwele said he was not happy that some of his fellow African National Congress members of Parliament had decided not to vote for the Bill.
“I am not happy that they walked out because ANC members were taken on board on several occasions. They had opportunities to raise their concerns. What they did is of great concern to me.”
There were 34 ANC MPs absent from the National Assembly during the vote. — Sapa
The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.