/ 9 April 2021

Mahlobo claims intelligence community is trying to frame a judge for taking a bribe

The 5th African National Congress Policy Conference Continues In South Africa
Deputy Human Settlements Minister David Mahlobo on Friday told the Zondo commission an intelligence operation was underway to frame a judge as having taken a bribe from the state. (Photo by Deaan Vivier/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Deputy Human Settlements Minister David Mahlobo on Friday told the Zondo commission an intelligence operation was underway to frame a judge as having taken a bribe from the state.

“As I stand here, without fear or favour or contradiction, I know there is a judge they are trying to frame, when a judge has never received money,” he said.

“And I want to place it on record, I have never given an instruction that a judge must be bought, and in terms of my knowledge there is not even a single judge that has been bought.”

Mahlobo made the statement after hours on the witness stand in which he tried to controvert testimony in January by three members of the State Security Agency (SSA), including acting director-general Loyiso Jafta, that cast him as one of the ministers on whose watch the intelligence service was co-opted to further former president Jacob Zuma’s political and personal ends.

He accused the three witnesses of having a political agenda, and not a shred of evidence to support their bombshell allegations. 

Jafta notably told the commission there was strong circumstantial evidence that one judge had taken a bribe. 

The acting director general said the suspicion was the subject of ongoing investigation. His testimony followed that of former minister Sydney Mufamadi, who headed a high-level panel into abuses at the SSA and told the commission of a covert operation, codenamed Project Justice, to sway judges to rule in favour of Zuma.

The allegations have been twisted by Zuma to impugn the wider judiciary and the Constitutional Court as it prepares to rule on an application to sanction him for contempt for defying an order to testify before the commission.

Mahlobo claimed that the same operative who was seeking to frame a judge, had in 2014 fabricated the claim that former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela worked for the United States’s Central Intelligence Agency.

“The acting director-general comes and says I have some circumstantial evidence, in his affidavit before the end, I can tell you this character called Steven is the one that right now as I speak they are working on a false alert to implicate a judge, as if judges are being bought and they [are] bringing the institution into disrepute,” Mahlobo said. 

“In the affidavit they say no, no they don’t know about it. They are running the operation. That guy is … the same guy who chose to lie about a certain politician and a head of a chapter nine institution and said that these guys are CIA.”

“And when you say no, no produce reports here that this judge and these people are CIA, you say let’s even open up a case, then you have a situation where the information was not forthcoming until I left.”

Mahlobo preemptively raised Jafta’s claim that a judge was corrupted, telling evidence leader Paul Pretorius that he expected to be questioned about it.

He served as minister of state security from 2014 to 2017.

According to Jafta’s testimony, Mahlobo had signed off on receipts for R80-million in cash taken from the SSA between 2015 and 2017.

The minister vehemently denied the claim.

“The things that have been said here to implicate me by all these individuals, they are incorrect. They don’t even have a shred of evidence, chair, that they have demonstrated.

“They say I took money, if someone must take money, there is a paper trail, and you don’t have my signature. 

He said at the end of the day, all three witnesses in question had conceded that their testimony was effectively hearsay.

“All of them, those three that appeared here, they told you … they told you, it is a hearsay. That is what they say about this one, that is what they say about this one, but at the end, when they concluded, they told you, they don’t have evidence, they are on record.”

In a question paraphrased by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, for the sake of clarity, whether Mahlobo would agree or not that a minister should not be involved in those matters. 

Mahlobo was unequivocal that there is no rule or law prohibiting executive involvement in operational matters, but that he never ventured there, before lecturing the commission at some length on what he termed the “trade craft” of intelligence.

He said it must be understood that people of any standing, including ministers and presidents, could be recruited for intelligence purposes, provided it served the national interest. He said in such cases it would be naive to assume that junior operatives could be assigned as handlers.

“I never ran operations but equally so, there is no law that says you can do this or you can’t do that.”

He added that it would be naive to assume that those who testified were innocent of political motive.

“Even they, I can tell you, are political animals, political players and as an intelligence person that has been trained, I can read what is the endgame.

“My answer is very clear – the allegations that they are making that I was involved in operations, I deny it.”

Mahlobo said when he became minister, he found an intelligence organisation that was deeply divided by mistrust and allegations of political meddling. The challenges began before the Zuma era and continued in its aftermath, and might well necessitate far-reaching reforms, he added. 

“But it is important to say let’s not be selective on how far our challenges are.”