Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2006-04-28 Reporter: Vicki Robinson Reporter: Matuma Letsoalo

ANC's Top-Secret e-mail Probe



Mail and Guardian




Vicki Robinson, Matuma Letsoalo 

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An African National Congress-appointed task team to probe the authenticity of the alleged “hoax e-mails” began its investigation from Luthuli House quietly this week. It has been received with mixed responses from senior party members, and is likely either to worsen tensions in the ruling party or be used as a trouble-shooting mechanism to neutralise fractures in the ANC.

In March the party’s national executive committee (NEC) announced that it would “mandate the ANC national working committee [NWC] to put in place a mechanism to address this matter in so far as it affects the ANC; and convene a special NEC meeting without undue delay to address this matter”. The Mail & Guardian has been unable to establish the exact terms of reference of the task team investigation, which were drafted by the party’s NWC.

The M&G understands that the task team members are Hermanus Loot (alias James Stuart), ANC struggle stalwart; Josiah Jele, former ANC NEC member, South Africa’s first post-1994 ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and former chairperson of the Security Officers Board; Gilbert Ramano, former South African army chief; and Jackie Sedibe, a former Umkhonto weSizwe commander and now major general in the South African National Defence Force. Her husband was the late defence minister Joe Modise.

Steyn Speed, spokesperson for the ANC, confirmed that the task team structure “had been set up”, but would not confirm the task team members or the terms of reference of the investigation.

It is understood that a notice was sent out to all NEC members and provincial leaders calling for submissions to the task team on any information relating to the origin of the e-mails.

The NEC decision to establish the task team came after Inspector General of Intelligence Zolile Ngcakani’s report on the origin of the e-mails was presented at March’s NEC meeting.

The report pitted NEC members, led by President Thabo Mbeki, who supported it, against those, led by ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe, who argued that the party should not accept a government-led inquiry into the e-mails and called instead for a parallel ANC investigation into their origin.

The “hoax e-mail saga” — purportedly implicating top government officials and ANC officials in a plot to support one faction in the ANC succession, principally ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma and Motlanthe — led to a major political fallout that culminated in the dismissal of National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director general Billy Masetlha by Mbeki in March, after the Ngcakani investigation was complete.

Ngcakani’s investigation found that a secret NIA project launched by Masetlha posed “the risk of undermining constitutionally protected party political freedoms and of descending into the abyss of abuse of state resources”. According to the report, the project, dubbed Avani, had been established by Masetlha in about July last year, without the minister of intelligence being informed.

The objectives of Avani were to assess and evaluate the effect that the presidential succession debate was having on the political climate in the country.

However, according to the report, the introduction of the so-called hoax e-mails into the intelligence collection system of the NIA resulted in a climate of conspiracy that appears to have taken key personnel with the intelligence services to the brink of treason. The report found the e-mails had been artificially constructed to look like electronic communication between senior government figures to sideline political opponents.

The ANC NEC resolved in its March meeting that none of the members of the NEC referred to in the alleged e-mail correspondence were involved in these “smear campaigns”.

However, the party felt that because the inspector general was confined by the NIA mandate to investigating the implicated individuals only in their capacity as government officials, not party officials, the ANC would conduct its own probe.

A large section of the NEC believes that Masetlha, perceived to be close to Zuma, is the latest fall guy in the ANC’s succession battle.

Motlanthe, who persuaded the NEC to agree to the party’s parallel inquiry, put his political reputation on line by lending credence to the e-mails when they first surfaced, by asking the authorities to act on them. He is believed to have asked police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi to investigate the messages, but Selebi turned him down.

If the ANC task team inquiry finds that there is a basis for believing the e-mails, Motlanthe, who is widely held to be an alternative to Zuma (whose own presidential ambitions are regarded as a spent force), would be vindicated, and his place in the succession battle strengthened. If the task team confirms Ngcakani’s finding that they were a hoax and that Motlanthe prematurely associated himself with them, he will suffer heavy political damage, and the so-called Mbeki camp will be bolstered.

But the task team is likely to avoid making such qualified conclusions and may simply act as a damage control mechanism.

The M&G spoke to six senior ANC members, five NEC members and one provincial chairperson, whose responses to the establishment of the task team were mixed. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one NEC member described it as “a side show” that would attempt to paper over the fallout in the party from the corruption and rape allegations against Zuma. The divisions in the party over the Zuma saga have also become an embodiment of the party’s succession battle, and there is a belief among some in the party that the task team’s conclusions will be drafted in such a way that all sides “will come out claiming to have been vindicated”.

Another NEC member differed, saying: “The hope from those that have pushed for the establishment of the task team is that people they know who have substantive submissions that would contradict Ngcakani’s report will send them.”

The NEC member said that while the e-mails may have been fabricated there was a belief among a large section of the party’s leadership that their content — to sideline certain political opponents to Mbeki — was genuine.

Another NEC member said the task team’s work was a process “that has credibility in the movement”, because the inspector general’s investigation “was done in a manner that affirmed the views of the anti-Zuma camp while discrediting those in the pro-Zuma camp”.

NIA officials looking down the barrel Two more officials of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) are under the axe, following the intelligence inspector general’s report which found that top NIA leaders were implicated in the e-mails saga, writes Matuma Letsoalo.

It is understood that counter-intelligence chief Bob Mhlanga and Funi Madlala, a manager in the NIA’s cyber unit, are likely to be fired for their involvement in the e-mail saga.

Mhlanga was suspended along with former NIA director general Billy Masetlha and head of operations Gibson Njenje after they were found to have been involved in the unlawful surveillance of ANC businessman Saki Macozoma.

Njenje resigned from his position after he reached an agreement with Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils last November. Masetlha was dismissed last month, but is challenging the dismissal in court.

Intelligence spokesperson Lorna Daniels this week denied media reports that Mhlanga had been fired, saying the internal disciplinary processes had not been finalised.

Madlala, who was suspected of being an intermediary in the dissemination of the e-mails, was arrested in November last year after he failed to cooperate with Inspector General Zolile Ngcakane. He has been on special leave since November last year when the charges were laid against him. Mhlanga and Madlala seem to be the latest casualties in the e-mail affair, which has divided the senior leadership of the ANC. The party is currently conducting its own investigation into the authenticity of the messages, which purported to show how senior ANC members were involved in a plot against ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma and secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe.

With acknowledgement to Vicki Robinson, Matuma Letsoalo and Mail & Guardian.