Arthur Fraser, as director general of the State Security Agency (SSA), personally signed off on payments of R20-million to the African News Agency (ANA) as part of a covert operation code-named “Project Wave” to co-opt the media during the last years of the Zuma era.
This emerged during the third day of testimony by a witness identified only as Ms K at the Zondo commission on Friday.
Ms K said the news agency was referred to as “Apricot” in the course of the endeavour and claimed the lion’s share of R48-million spent on Project Wave.
The SSA received two invoices from ANA, each for R10-million, in March 2016 and again in June that year, she said.
However, the money was paid only in January 2017 after Fraser signed off on its release, she added.
The witness confirmed that she knew the names of the journalists at ANA and elsewhere in the media who received money during the course of Project Wave, but evidence leader Paul Pretorius indicated that these journalists would be named only in due course, once rule 3.3 notices have been served on them.
Pretorius referred to a statement, which he described as “interesting”, in which ANA confirmed on Tuesday that it had an agreement with the SSA, but claimed there was nothing untoward about it.
“In 2016/2017, ANA had a contract with the SSA to provide multimedia training for SSA analysts and interns across Africa, and to use its platforms, in particular the African Independent newspaper, to carry positive stories about South Africa and the South African government,” according to the statement from chief executive Vasantha Angamuthu.
She insisted that the news agency was not aware of any “sinister” intent on the part of the SSA.
The existence of Project Wave and the payment to the news agency, which was founded in 2015 by Iqbal Survé, were revealed at the commission on Monday by former cabinet minister Sydney Mufamadi, who headed a high-level review panel into abuses at the SSA.
Ms K said the observation was made at the intelligence service that infiltrating the media was expensive compared to other covert operations because of the steep payment some news organisations that were prepared to co-operate demanded.
Others simply rebuffed the SSA’s advances.
In the end, the witness said, Project Wave revealed that there were forces outside and within South Africa, including within the governing ANC, that were intent on bringing about “regime change” ― shorthand for ousting former president Jacob Zuma.
Ms K also testified that under Fraser, the SSA saw a dramatic increase in the budget available to the director general of the agency. It jumped from R42-million in the 2016-17 financial year to R303-million in 2017-18.
The increase was afforded eight months before the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec where Cyril Ramaphosa won the presidency of the party in a bruising contest against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, now minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs.
This week’s testimony struck not only at the media, but also at the courts, as the current acting director general of the SSA, Loyiso Jafta, told the commission he had strong circumstantial evidence that a judge was bribed in Project Justice, the code-name of a covert operation to influence members of the judiciary.
Jafta, who was part of an investigation into recent abuses at the SSA, told the commission it was “fact” that vast sums of money were spent on influencing the outcome of factional battles within the ANC.
Ms K has implicated Fraser, who is currently the director general of correctional services, and former intelligence ministers Siyabonga Cwele, David Mahlobo and Bongani Bongo as being directly involved in transgressions.
According to Ms K, she and others heard from an operative that R21-million was delivered to Mahlobo, so that he could “deal with the issue of judges” who were a risk to the regime.
Fraser and Bongo have written to Jafta requesting the declassification of documents that include a dossier on how Moe Shaik, the former head of the secret service, allegedly arranged for the funding and establishing of CNBC Africa and the secondment of SSA operatives to the business news channel.
Shaik has hit back that it would be treason to release the documents and destroy what remained of the country’s intelligence capabilities.