Don't mention the Law

Jeremy Gordin on Mufamadi's reluctant testimony to the Zondo Commission about SSA efforts to suborn our judiciary

A week or so ago, Sydney Mufamadi testified before the Zondo Commission investigating state capture [1] .

Mufamadi is former chair of the so-called High-Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency (SSA). Established by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the panel began work in July 2018 and its report was revealed to the public in March 2019 [2].

Mufamadi’s recent testimony was followed by that of acting director general (ADG) of the SSA Loyiso Jafta and by someone referred to as Ms K (Kafka?), a SSA operative who stood in for a Mr Y (Yagoda?), confirming his affidavit and much of the testimony given by Mufamadi.

The core testimony given by all three was that post-2018 investigations headed by Jafta revealed that billions of rand, either in cash or in assets, could not be accounted for by the SSA.

The money, apparently paid mostly in cash[3], had been used, from about 2012-18, and from even earlier in some cases, to shore up (and pay) the Jacob Zuma regime (including a praetorian bodyguard for Msholozi), and for a variety of operations aimed at getting onside the judiciary, the media, and almost everything else you can think of.

Should you and I “believe” these testimonies? I don’t see why not.

But I also think that, alas, like so much we hear from the Zondo Commission, there are a great many issues that seem bothersome and questionable – and that there is much that we have not been told.

First, there’s often many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, or rather between carefully-modulated testimony and Reality (with a capital “R”).

I start with a simple, unimportant but (I believe) instructive example. One shock horror revelation was that “Project Lock” was allocated around R100 000 to R200 000 per month, which included the lease of a safe house, living expenses, and a salary of around R40 000 for erstwhile Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock “for which he signed acknowledgment receipts”.

Indeed. In 2016 I [4] had a meeting at my house with De Kock, Anemari Jansen (who wrote Assassin for the State, 2015), and representatives of two publishing houses. Under discussion was another book, to be written by De Kock, Jansen and myself.  Nothing came of the idea.

But what I remember clearly about the meeting was that De Kock was chaperoned (politely but strictly) by two burly (black) men. They didn’t want their Land Rover parked in general sight, so brought it inside my property. However, apparently because the vehicle hadn’t been properly maintained, they didn’t want to switch off the engine. They were concerned it wouldn’t re-start; it thus had to be kept running for close to two hours.

What was this all about? It was common cause that, because the justice department didn’t want to parole De Kock, which he was entitled to be [5], the powers-that-be had reached a deal with De Kock that he would submit to a kind of house arrest and would moreover assist the “authorities” to locate more bodies of those murdered by his unit and others [6] .

Now, a safe house, living expenses, around-the-clock guards (two at least), and transport (albeit defective) don’t come in, by my calculations, at much less than the above figures. The salary? Well, R40k/month is a middle to low-level civil service one, isn’t it? De Kock, remember, was not allowed to seek employment.

What’s instructive about this small tale? It’s one thing to follow the money; but it’s also necessary, before shouting shock horror, to audit the money with care. There’s more to things than meet the eye, especially at the Zondo Commission, which is a commission, not a court of law.

Much more importantly is that it’s clear the SSA clearly became the go-to piggybank. A catch-all. If one needed money for something that you wanted kept quiet, there was the good ol’ SSA. The ancien regime had, for example, the secret Defence Force fund; the new regime had the SSA.

I am not suggesting this was legal or ethical – I’m just pointing out that this is how it was.

Let me also point out, while I’m here, that President Frogboiler has had Mufamadi’s (unredacted) report on his desk for two years. Yet the apparently main bad guys, former intelligence minister David Mahlobo and former spy chief Arthur Fraser still serve in the government, in new positions, appointed by Ramaphosa.

Extrapolating (if I may) from these observations, I must also say that much of Jafta’s and Ms K’s testimony didn’t feel “quite right”. Doubtless I am old, sceptical, and have lived in SA for too long; and doubtless Jafta was constrained “in the interests of national security” [7].

But when a person has been put by the present powers-that-be into the spook agency to clean it up, etc., someone who has presumably come up through the ANC ranks and has had some spook training and experience himself, when such a person keeps talking about his fealty to the Constitution as the main reason for what he’s telling us and why he’s in the limelight – I can’t help but look around for what’s missing.

Talking of which, what about Mufamadi’s testimony? In a piece on The Conversation website, Steven Friedman has asked, “So why have media treated the contents of a two-year-old report [Mufamadi’s] which confirmed older suspicions as a ‘bombshell’?”

Friedman’s suggestion is that this has all been in the public domain as the High Level Panel’s report was released in early 2019. Friedman is not quite on the money here. If one compares this version to that which was presented to Ramaphosa in December 2018 it is clear that it was heavily sanitised before release. The 2019 report certainly says there is a can of worms here, but one only really has sight of the can. Some of the most important findings, and much of the detail, were expunged before publication.  

Among the explosive revelations from the “high-level” investigation that were not included in the version issued for public consumption was the project to corrupt the judiciary. And that be – as the rap singer intoned – the “odd” thang about Mufamadi’s most recent testimony. Read it through.

In the original, secret, and unexpurgated High Level Panel report of December 2018 it mentions an operation (aptly called “Project Justice”) which it said “involved recruiting and handling sources in the judiciary in order to influence the outcome of cases against then President Zuma. Information provided to the Panel indicated that amounts of between R1,2 million and R4,5 million were routinely taken from SSA and provided to Minister Mahlobo whom, it is said, was responsible for handling these sources.”

While Mufamadi concedes, in his November 2020 affidavit to the commission, that there was indeed such a project to subvert and corrupt the judiciary he keeps on trying to back-pedal, keeps trying to downplay it. He repeatedly says, “Yeah, there was such a project, but we don’t know if it was actually implemented, maybe this was all a ruse to purloin state resources, and anyway it was not our job to look into that too closely”.

Was it ever implemented? Well, we don’t know for sure. But when asked about this hot potato Loyiso Jafta conceded that “We have very strong circumstantial evidence that some of the money went into the hands of some of the members or a member of the Judiciary. But I do not have sitting here now absolute concrete evidence of that.” Ms K meanwhile disclosed that large amounts had - according to the relevant bag man “Frank” - indeed been paid over to Mahlobo for this purpose. Before Project Justice was put into effect in 2015 there had even been another operation named “Project Simunye” the purpose of which was intensifying and strengthening “state authority within the judiciary system under which contact and relevant assets were to be acquired, utilised for the purpose of positive influencing state power and control of the judiciary”.

It was said a couple of days ago at the Zondo Commission by evidence leader Paul Pretorius SC that the names of the journalists corrupted by SSA money will soon be produced. I know for sure that I’m not on the list and I suspect that most of us will probably never have heard of those whose names will be listed (if they ever are).

But there’s been not a peep – there’s seems no rush at all – about compiling and revealing a list of members of the judiciary who’ve allegedly been handsomely bribed. After all, it’s somewhat contra to the belief that whatever is going wrong with this or that organ of state “at least we have an independent judiciary,” one of our great Seffrican claims.

It’s been argued by some (including Mufamadi, as I said) that maybe Project Justice was merely a cover in terms of which certain SSA folk got money but kept it for themselves – that nothing ever reached this or that judge.

But it’s looking increasingly as though the investigators – Jafta’s team, including Messrs. K and Y – might have thought that while all animals can be investigated, some animals are best left uninvestigated.


[1] Mufamadi was minister of safety and security in the Mandela government then minister of provincial and local government under Mbeki. When the ANC rusticated Mbeki, Mufamadi quit government. He was, in other words, for better and worse, a Mbeki man. The present minister of state security is Ayanda Dlodlo, who inter alia was charged in 2006 with theft of R80 700 from the Scorpions’ secret informer fund, though charges were dropped. She was clearly a Zuma (wo)man. She was appointed as minister of state security on 30 May 2019 by Ramaphosa. Go figure.

[2] But “revealed” in a rather redacted form – see below.

[3] Why were there not more cash-in-transit robberies? According to the recent testimonies, operatives left the SSA building with oodles of money in their car boots. Surely our crack criminal networks would have got busy. Or have we simply not been told?

[4] As co-author with De Kock of A Long Night’s Damage: Working for the Apartheid State (Contra Press, Johannesburg, 1998), the royalties of which were donated by De Kock “to the victims of apartheid and their families” (statement at the TRC, Port Elizabeth, 1 October 1997).

[5] As would happen, and is happening now with Janusz Waluś, the justice department clearly didn’t know how to handle the matter.

[6] With whom precisely the agreement was made is up to De Kock to divulge should he choose to do so. But I can say that it was not someone of “junior” status. Incidentally, a recently reported claim, allegedly by former justice minister Michael Masutha, that De Kock was released in 2015 into the custody of the SSA “because of fears that he would be recruited by right-wing extremists” smacks of post facto horse manure to me. Unless of course this is what Masutha was told by a non-junior Somebody.

[7] Another cant and over-used phrase that drives me ape. Who are we being protected from in terms of national security? The three remaining members of Al-Qaeda hiding out in Durban? The Botswana Royal Navy?