South African human rights activist Kumi Naidoo , who is the international executive director of Greenpeace, said he had gained legal representation and wanted an urgent meeting with State Security Minister David Mahlobo, after leaked cables revealed that he was targeted as a potential security threat ahead of a major global summit.
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The human rights campaigner questioned why South Africa, one of the world’s most unequal societies, would waste money on spies to monitor his activities when it could find the information for free on his Facebook or Twitter accounts – or the Greenpeace website.
Naidoo, who grew up in poverty during apartheid, became an activist when he was 15. He was arrested several times, put on trial and, facing a possible 15-year jail term, fled into exile in Britain.
In 2009 he became the first African to lead environmental group Greenpeace.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service asked South Africa for a “specific security assessment” of Naidoo, ahead of a meeting of G20 leaders in Seoul in 2010. The request linked him with two other South Africans who had been swept up in an anti-terrorist raid in Pakistan but were later released and returned to South Africa.
It is not clear whether intelligence complied with the request.
The details emerged this week from hundreds of dossiers, files and cables obtained by Al Jazeera and shared with The Guardian, in what has been described as the worst security breach in South Africa’s post-apartheid history.
“My main reaction when I was contacted by Al Jazeera was not one of surprise or frustration or anger,” Naidoo said on Thursday. “It was one of sadness, hurt and deep disappointment.
“It’s not as if it’s a shock, I’ll be honest. After the Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks revelations, you’d have to be rather naive to say: ‘Oh, I was shocked’. We make assumptions that it’s happening, but to have it confirmed has a chilling and numbing effect. What’s important to note is that this can send a very negative message about democratic participation in society.”
The 50-year-old has visited South Korea several times and believes its intelligence service made the request because of his outspoken opposition to nuclear power.
“In 2010 when the G20 meeting was taking place in South Korea, one of the things that the South Korean government had on its agenda was to use that opportunity to push its nuclear technology, particularly in the direction of countries like South Africa, Turkey and India.
“But what hurts more is an impression that I now have that my government might have – I’m going to be generous and say ‘might have’ – been engaged in surveillance activity against me, as well as might have shared that with South Korean intelligence upon request.”
Some cables published this week show South Africa receiving requests only to deny them, Naidoo added, citing an example in Cameroon. But he noted: “What I don’t see in the cables that are available is in fact a denial from the South African government to the South Koreans, saying: ‘This is a citizen of ours who was part of the liberation struggle who had been supporting democracy and human rights since the age of 15 and we do not believe there’s any reason for you to…’
“They shouldn’t even have to tell them any of what I’ve just said. They should have just done what they did for the Cameroonian opposition party and said there’s no way, and I’m hoping that’s the case, but right now from the way it reads, it doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Naidoo, a former Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, said he will now seek official answers with representation from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC).
Naidoo has also written to Mahlobo to request a meeting as soon as possible.
“Essentially what I would like to hear from my government is that one, we did not collaborate with the South Korean intelligence and share that information, and secondly I would like to have a confirmation that I’m not a subject of surveillance and monitoring.”
He continued: “It’s important that we recognise that in a country where so many of our people do not have access to proper housing, proper electricity, proper sanitation – and let me just say, saying ‘proper sanitation’ is a bit of jargon for a decent place to shit and piss, and that’s a basic human right that many of our people don’t have – I see resources being wasted on surveillance and other activities, most of which information is easily available on Twitter, Facebook and the Greenpeace website.
“I’m very transparent about all the places, what I’m doing, the activities and so on: it’s a much cheaper way to actually collect any information rather than having people’s privacy being invaded.”
Naidoo also plans to write an open letter to president Jacob Zuma outlining his concerns and how they relate to the broader energy crisis facing South Africa, which plans to invest heavily in nuclear power stations. “Put simply, nuclear is too expensive, too dangerous and as a so-called solution to our electricity crisis and as solution to climate change, will deliver too little too late.”
Greenpeace on Friday filed papers in the Pretoria high court to try and compel Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to update the country’s nuclear liability regulations.
The fact that the South African government was pushing ahead with controversial plans for new nuclear investment meant the country’s liability regime needed to be scrutinised carefully, Greenpeace executive director in Africa, Michael O’Brien Onyeka, said in a statement.
Government condemns leaks
Concluding a press conference at Constitution Hill he admitted: “It has been quite emotionally challenging for me. To be honest I was completely comfortable to be monitored and surveilled by the apartheid state. In fact in those days if they weren’t surveilling you at all it was like a little bit of a bad thing. It was like, ‘What? They didn’t come and arrest you, they’re not monitoring you? Oh comrade, you’re not so militant!’
“So I have no problem with that during that period, but I do feel deeply hurt if resources are being used. I want to believe that I will get the confirmation from my government saying that it’s not been the case and they did not share information on me with any external, whether it’s South Korean or other agencies.”
Under growing pressure, government issued a response to the leaks on Wednesday, saying a full investigation has been launched.
“The leaking of the purported documents detailing operational details of the State Security Agency is condemned in the strongest possible terms,” Mahlobo said.
“It is illegal to disclose such information outside of the classification protocols in place. Such conduct has the dangerous effect of undermining operational effectiveness of the work to secure this country and borders on undermining diplomatic relations with our partners in the international community.
Any leakages of classified information undermine the national security of any state.” – The Guardian