Spy Issue Throws ANC Off Balance
In May 1997, the ANC handed a list of spies and informers of the apartheid-era government to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), but requested that the list be kept secret.
In fact, the list was so secret that some senior members of the party had no idea who was named. One minister apparently called commissioners for months, trying to get a copy.
But six years down the line, that list seems destined to haunt the ruling party.
The startling allegation last weekend that public prosecutions national director Bulelani Ngcuka may have been a police spy was the first indication of a party spat gone dirty.
"It now seems some senior ANC members will use that information injudiciously," says independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi.
It's unclear whether Ngcuka's name was on the list, or whether he was named in a similar dossier supposedly handed to then-president Nelson Mandela before he appointed his cabinet in 1994.
But the timing of the leak has further muddied the investigation into the R40bn arms deal that allegedly implicates deputy president Jacob Zuma and former transport minister Mac Maharaj in corruption.
Zuma headed the ANC's intelligence operation in exile and Maharaj this week confirmed the existence of a spy report on Ngcuka.
And by all indications , the ANC is at a loss as to how to handle the latest twist in the saga, which shows signs of spiralling out of control.
"The centre is clearly not holding", says Matshiqi. "If ever there was a time for President Thabo Mbeki to demonstrate his leadership capacity, it is now."
Party leaders have been anxious to contain the fallout, but are wary that any intervention could be construed as interference in the judicial process.
But Matshiqi says the danger is that rank and file members would be forced to take sides, creating factions within the party. " When the party needs to unite ahead of an election campaign, the ANC seems to be suffering from a lack of leadership," he said.
But party insiders and observers are at a loss to explain what these machinations in the ANC really mean. All agree that though there is no single explanation, the tussle between competing factions has gone luridly public.
"It is ultimately the ANC that will suffer the most," says Matshiqi, adding that vacillation on how to deal with apartheid-era spies in its ranks could become a recurring nightmare.
The list submitted to the TRC in 1997 was part of the ANC's second submission to the commission, and among those named were believed to be a number of journalists who had spied for the apartheid government.
At the time, the ANC denied its request for the list to be kept secret was a break from its earlier position when it called on the TRC name informers. Former National Intelligence Service (NIS) head Niel Barnard made a confidential submission to the TRC at the time, saying various people - some in prominent leadership positions - had supplied the NIS with information in the 1980s.
Barnard declined to name any informers, but the ANC insisted, saying refusal to do so "implied a continuation of those structures".
The ANC also wanted the TRC's amnesty committee to allow five former security policemen, who were applying for amnesty, to name the informers who had worked for them.
However, the ANC insisted its list be kept secret because it feared those named could be targets of revenge attacks.
The TRC said its list would be made public once it had been properly investigated and those named had been given adequate notice.
A year later former Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) MP Patricia de Lille accused government of suppressing information showing that several senior ANC officials had "received blood money" to betray their comrades in the liberation struggle. She then proceeded to read the names of seven ANC leaders from a list she brandished before the national assembly.
It earned her a two-week suspension from parliament, which De Lille later successfully challenged in court.
And the saga of the confidential submission to the TRC did not end there.
Two years ago, it emerged that 34 boxes of "sensitive" TRC records removed from its offices in 1999 and placed in the custody of the department of justice had gone missing. The files included the ANC's list of informers and the confidential submission.
In December 2001, the justice department said it did not have the records, which were held by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
The NIA at first denied having the records, sparking an outcry from the national archives. In April last year, however, the NIA admitted to having them , but said they would be returned to the justice department.
Former commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza says he "can't remember" whether Ngcuka was on the list of names supplied by the ANC in 1997.
With acknowledgements to Prakash Naidoo and the Financial Mail.