/ 11 June 2022

[From our archives] Spy boss Fraser brings out his wrecking ball

Graphic Tl Canham Cyrilcash Website2 1200px
(John McCann/M&G)

Arthur Fraser’s prints are alleged to be all over former president Thabo Mbeki’s long drop, which culminated in his drubbing at theANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007.

Fraser resurfaced to save former president Jacob Zuma twice, with the National Prosecuting Authority’s Spy Tapes” — first in 2009 when he helped to get corruption charges against Zuma dropped and then again to facilitate his premature parole from prison in 2021. 

Fraser has struck again. This time, he does so from outside the state’s payroll, using his archive of murky intelligence cultivated over years at the head of the country’s secret agencies, the National Intelligence Agency, and as the head of prisons. 

Who should be afraid of his little black book of secrets? 

I began my basic online research on Fraser with some trepidation. If he can unseat presidents, is he not tracking every Google search of his name and what might he do to ordinary people? Unless I lose control of my vehicle, my guess is that Fraser can do very little to the average person. 

Fraser’s wrecking ball only gains power when the stakes are elevated and the ground of political intrigue and divisions is highest. Although the repercussions ripple through the heart of government, Fraser’s singing only has power in a divided ANC. 

It is the silly season of an ANC election year and the ground is fertile for gossip and backstabbing. It is akin to the days leading up to a family funeral. We hold our collective breath that the drunk uncle will not unseal family secrets that will derail the funeral. The deceased might not be the biological daughter of the patriarch. Should we hide the alcohol or should we appoint a caretaker to ensure that the uncle is too drunk to sing? 

Fraser’s solo performance has struck a chord and we are running helter-skelter. We can use the song as fuel against President Cyril Ramaphosa to replace him, to defend him to prevent political instability or to protect our class position against possible market instability. 

To say that the ANC is divided is not an original claim. Perhaps Ramaphosa is politically the weakest party man to head the organisation in a long time. Its members are obsessed with the access to wealth that leadership and political patronage can buy them. They have hollowed out the party and it is now a rudderless husk, devoid of vision and decisive leadership. 

As a means to government funds, the ANC has lost its self-assigned role as the leader of society and provides more fodder for comedians than it inspires South Africa’s citizens. As a party of jokers who have lost their moral compass, political instability is their preferred stage. Political slates solidify in this tempestuous climate. 

Deputy President David Mabuza rubs his hands, suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule smacks his lips and Zuma performs a jig. Those who line up behind them show their hand to be recognised and rewarded in the event that Fraser’s song collapses the deck. The rest of us bob on choppy water. There is no lifeline. 

Fraser handed his hymn sheet over to the police station in Rosebank, Johannesburg, and it has been published on several websites. The president has a personal bank on his Phala Phala Limpopo game farm. We knowingly elected a billionaire president, perhaps the most high-profile beneficiary of the ANC government’s black economic empowerment largesse and capital’s sweetheart. 

When the ANC and his financial backers got him onto the ballot, we knew his role in Marikana. We consoled ourselves that a billionaire president would not need to rob the state coffers. The problem with billionaires is that they operate on their own plane, which is sometimes outside of the rules of the rest of us. 

It turns out that billionaires might have their own banks and that their domestic workers also operate as part-time cashiers at Phala Phala bank. Like the other sins that sank and made previous presidents, Fraser was on hand to document and stash state secrets for a rainy day. 

The rainy day has arrived. I was home in Lusikisiki for my mother’s 80th birthday this past weekend when she asked me about the president’s millions. She listens to Umhlobo Wenene and all the radio station’s shows were abuzz with talk of the millions, conspiracy theories and what should happen in the party and the Union Buildings. 

Fraser’s hymnal has let the dogs out. I had planned to write a column about the potholes on Mpondoland’s treacherous Wild Coast roads, but Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi’s attention-grabbing younger sibling has once more drawn the spotlight. 

Although we should welcome Fraser’s revelations as promoting transparency, we all know that he only sings when his fortunes are threatened. He hoards secrets and uses them when they can cause most harm. For him, intelligence is a tool that is not for the prevention of misfortune but for its creation. He tosses it like a Molotov cocktail. Maybe he is driven by his Cape Flats student activist days of causing instability. 

As a Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigator, perhaps he kept a little black book, cultivating secrets for later use. I imagine Fraser sitting at his desk as a schoolboy. On his lap is a book in which he scribbles the names of those who misbehave while the teacher is away. Perhaps he keeps dirt on his teacher too. But he will not reveal these names and secrets immediately. Attuned to the high drama that would lead him to study film at university, he bides his time for maximum effect.  

He uses his skills with a perverse sense of justice. It gives him pleasure to watch the power of secrets made public. He relishes their path of destruction and I imagine he revels in his power to create chaos and to be kingmaker. 

Perhaps former Vlakplaas apartheid policeman Eugene de Kock gained a similar kind of pleasure from torturing victims into surrendering secrets. Ever the opportunist, it was in Zuma’s interests to court Fraser away from Mbeki and into his camp. And, to paraphrase Donald Trump, the dividends have paid, bigly. Zuma owes his survival to Fraser’s knack for keeping and revealing secrets. 

Political life in the United States was determined by the shadowy hand of J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. The wealth of intelligence that he amassed over a period of nearly four decades allowed him to intimidate several sitting presidents. 

Perhaps Fraser has a stockpile of evidence gathered in his equivalent of the FBI index. Only, Fraser does not have to be in office to wield the power of his index. He can walk into a police station of his choice, throw his bombs and turn on his heel. The political elite should fear him in and out of office. But eventually, the stink of political fall-outs will reach us too. 

Fraser set out to test the ANC’s step-aside policy adopted when Ramaphosa assumed leadership in Nasrec, Soweto, in 2017. By his and the Zuma-Magashule faction’s reckoning, if the many implicated ANC officials have to step aside when found guilty by law enforcement agencies, then the president has to lead by example. 

This would be interesting if the battle was not about a fight for a political carcass. Like vultures in a drought, they peck at slim pickings. The ANC is morally and financially bankrupt. The state is sustained by a thin tax base and life support from international lenders. Bereft and battered by looting and floods, what has been budgeted for education, healthcare and roads has to be redirected towards endless emergencies. 

Fraser is amused. Like a movie villain, his role is to burn and ruin the little that is left. Perhaps Fraser’s education in film is useful after all. The presidential fallist chuckles in the flickering light illuminated by the flames. Only, we are not on a film set. We live, breathe and burn.

We sit in the dying embers of the flames. Shadowy presidents propped by the pathologies of capital and spurned spooks determine our collective future. We are halfway through 2022 and we have witnessed a pandemic, deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal, drought in Gqeberha, Zuma turning 80 and Fraser’s revelations suggest that the president has a cash pile on his farm. 

Fraser’s song is never meant to comfort and build. It is always in the interests of destruction. We can be sure that the direction in which we are hurtling is downwards. By the time of the ANC’s conference at year-end, we may be past the brink and divining our collective future from the ashes of the ANC’s ruinous path.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.