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Ms K describes ‘separate and discrete’ SSA command structure to protect Zuma

A witness identified only as “Ms K” on Tuesday named South Africa’s defence secretary, Sonto Kudjoe, three cabinet ministers and the former director general of the State Security Agency (SSA), Arthur Fraser as the main authors of intelligence abuses during the Zuma era.

Ms K told the Zondo commission that the transgressions included setting up a shadowy parallel force with SSA funding that took over all aspects of assuring then-president Jacob Zuma’s personal safety.

This protection force was spearheaded by former SSA heavyweight and ambassador to Japan, Thulani Dlomo, and extended to a toxicology unit that cost the taxpayer at least R1.8-million a month.

“At the executive level, the abuse of the SSA’s mandate occurred primarily under the political leadership of ministers Siyabonga Cwele, David Mahlobo and Bongani Bongo, and was executed or implemented primarily, although not exclusively, by Maruti [Stan] Noosi, ambassador Thulani Dlomo, ambassador Sonto Kudjoe and Arthur Fraser,” Ms K testified.

The PPS, as the force dedicated to Zuma was known, was armed and financed by the SSA and members in some instances received training outside the country. 

Their recruitment happened outside the legal parameters of the usual SSA processes. The rationale for setting up the unit was a raft of vague threats, including concern that the media was undermining the president.

The witness is a key member of the Project Veza investigation team, which is probing abuses at the intelligence services during the period that coincides with Zuma’s nine years in office.

According to evidence leader Paul Pretorius, she was testifying about allegations contained in an affidavit submitted by a colleague, Mr Y, who could not take the stand because he had recently emerged from a coma. 

According to Mr Y’s submissions, Dlomo began recruiting and training PPS members in 2008, when he was still employed by the provincial department of social development in KwaZulu-Natal.

They were absorbed in the SSA structures at the same time (January 2012) that Dlomo ascended to the post of the general manager of the Central Directorate for Security Operations (CDSO).

Increased powers

His powers grew rapidly. The next month urgent approval was sought to bring the Covert Support Unit under his command as well.

Mr Y’s affidavit states that, in fact, the operational architecture of the SSA was altered over time, even before Dlomo’s official appointment, to give him sweeping powers at the intelligence service.

The CDSO then engaged in “exponential overspending”.

For legal purposes, Ms K’s testimony was confined to the affidavit of Mr Y, and whether she agreed with his submissions or not.

These suggested that the presidential protection unit not only pandered to the president’s paranoia, but served as a stepping stone from which members were later moved into posts in the criminal justice cluster.

Although Ms K mostly corroborated the affidavit, she could not confirm, for lack of personal knowledge, the deployment of PPS members to key posts outside the SSA.

She agreed, however, that the SSA received no conventional benefit from Dlomo’s operations. 

Instead, she witnessed a “separate and discrete” command structure that left the police complaining that their protection mandate had been usurped.

Ms K also confirmed that at least one member of the protection unit proudly told Project Veza’s investigators that he felt quite important because he reported directly to Zuma.

Wednesday was the third day of explosive testimony at the commission on the corruption of intelligence structures under Zuma to advance his personal interests and those of a particular faction in the ANC loyal to the president.

It began with lawyers for security figures — including Mahlobo who is currently deputy minister of human settlements — attempting to block the witness’s testimony. As with an attempt by State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo on Tuesday to block that of acting director general of the SSA, Loyiso Jafta, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, would not entertain it.

Dlodlo on Wednesday afternoon issued a statement saying she had not attempted to frustrate the work of the commission but had sought advance disclosure of his testimony, which would have enabled her to brief President Cyril Ramaphosa as a courtesy.

“The law enjoins me as the minister of intelligence to exercise oversight and ultimate executive authority over all intelligence matters of the country — such oversight responsibility would be near impossible to achieve without information at my disposal,” she said.

“The least I am entitled to is a full disclosure of all intelligence information in the agency so that I can exercise my custodial responsibility as minister of state security.”

She stressed that it was for this reason, with regard to section 10 of the Intelligence Services Act, that she had sought a briefing from Jafta.

He told the commission that on Zuma’s watch intelligence ministers had flouted the law to run intelligence operations personally. Mahlobo had signed off on receipts for R80-million in cash taken from the SSA between 2015 and 2017.

Fraser, who was director general of the SSA and is currently the director general for correctional services, has applied to Jafta for the declassification of 41 files, including a dossier on Ramaphosa, which he says he needs to answer to allegations made against him at the commission. 

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