The Spy Who's Out in the Cold
|Date||April 2001, Issue 32|
His name - one of them anyway - is Bheki Jacobs. He is a diminutive, but remarkable, figure. In the past year most of the investigators employed in probing South Africa's tainted arms procurement programme have confidentially consulted him, because of his extensive knowledge of the personalities and processes involved in the deals.
Now he has been ‘exposed' - if that's the right word -via the dubious efforts of that fiend of the President's Office at the Sunday Times, Ranjeni Munusamy. In the process, Ms Munusamy appears to have sinned against all the rules of investigative journalism.
Munusamy was introduced to Jacobs following her newspaper's grovelling apology, published on December 3 last year, to Minister in the President's office Essop Pahad, and ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni. Drafted by editor Mike Robertson in terms that managed to be both obsequious and pompous, the apology related to an earlier Sunday Times report in which Yengeni and Pahad were - in our view, correctly - accused of trying to squash, or at least inhibit, the arms investigations called for by Parliament.
After her editor had already published his apology, Munusamy approached Terry Crawford-Browne, a retired Nedbank executive and devout Anglican who has campaigned against the R43b arms procurement programme since its inception, for belated help in shoring up the story. Which, come to think of it now, was odd.
Crawford-Browne introduced Ranjeni to Bheki Jacobs on the explicit understanding that Jacobs' identity would be protected. Now he has lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about the Sunday Times exposure of their source - one of the cardinal sins of journalism - in a front page story on March 11.
Sunday Times news editor Mondli Makhanya says he decided to run a story exposing Jacobs ‘because he didn't play open cards with us' and because of things the newspaper learned about ‘the manner he had operated with members of the presidency ... he inveigled himself and spread false documents around'.
The Sunday Times's expose -under the headline ‘Man poses as Mbeki's secret agent' - was a shocker. Readers were left with the impression that a nut had had the ear of the government and the president, on serious intelligence matters, for years. Among those named as having been ‘taken in' were Pahad himself, former Intelligence Minister Joe Nhlanhla, and President Mbeki's former political advisor, Vusi Mavimbela (who is today head of the National Intelligence Agency). Person after person in the presidency was duped by Jacobs - a reflection on them more than on him, I suppose,' Makanya said. In a more robust democracy that would have been enough to topple a government.
The newspaper‘s main source for all this inside-the-presidency stuff was none other than Minister Pahad, one of the subjects of its original critical story - and no mean spy himself.
News editor Makhanya claims that Pahad, far from encouraging the story, had to be convinced to speak about the issue. But the notion of Pahad - not to mention the president -being duped by a nutcase over a number of years remains hard to swallow. Who's really duping whom?
The Sunday Times has undoubtedly been duped. In the spy world, Bheki Jacobs is the real deal - an experienced operative who has, for two decades, worked for the ANC at the highest levels - latterly, even for the presidency. And Pahad has foolishly committed the cardinal sin of the intelligence community - that of exposing the identity of its operatives.
The Sunday Times appears keen to ignore the fact that what Pahad has exposed amounts to a private Presidential intelligence network - a matter of considerable political and constitutional moment.
Pahad's attempt to portray Jacobs as some kind of Walter Mitty character does not stand up to even the most cursory scrutiny.
Of course, Pahad is relying on the fact that in most cases the world of intelligence really is so bizarre as to seem implausible. Who would have believed a Dr Wouter Basson (‘medicine is my hobby, war is my profession') or a colonel Eugene Kock could have been employed by a government to do what they did?
But Jacobs' career as a trusted intelligence operative is simply too well documented.
‘Jacobs is a highly-trained ANC intelligence operative, whose information has proved to be uncannily accurate,' says Crawford-Browne. ‘His standing is such that he was responsible for security for the Independent Electoral Commission during the recent local government elections.' The IEC has confirmed this.
Presumably those in government responsible for the appointment knew of his qualifications for the job.
Jacobs' association with the President is clear: on his return h m exile in Moscow in late 1994, Jacobs worked at Shell House (ANC headquarters in Johannesburg) in the department of International Affairs headed by Mbeki. It appears that Jacobs was almost immediately deployed in the internal battle between followers of Mbeki, on the one hand, and those of Cyril Ramaphosa on the other. The two groups fissured the ANC in many ways: exiles vs ‘inciles', Africanists vs Charterists (and their alleged White, Indian, ‘Coloured' and Communist Party cabals).
A group calling itself Congress Consultants was formed as a kind of guerrilla intelligence network to give Mbeki independent intelligence on what was happening in the country and in his rivals' camps. Jacobs was, at one time, a kind of operations director for this network.
It ensured that Mbeki was well informed about the activities of his opponents and their allies - and many were subsequently sidelined Mac Maharaj, Pravin Gordhan, Jay Naidoo, Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa.
It was allegedly Congress Consultants that did the investigation into Phosa (then Mpumulanga Premier), when he was threatening to stand against Mbeki for the ANC presidency - long before the official ANC investigation.
Jacobs ‘assisted' the ANC Western Cape safety and security committee from1995 to 1997, when close associate Nyami Booi was in charge of the ANC Western Cape Safety and Security Desk. He was based in the office of then ANC chief whip and treasurer, Arnold Stofile, working as Stofile's ‘intelligence man' at Parliament.
And remember when Anglo and De Beers were rumoured to be backing Cyril Ramaphosa in the leadership contest with Mbeki, back in 1997?
Of course today this is dismissed as ‘rubbish' by Ramaphosa, but noseweek readers will recall that in 1993 and 1995 Mbeki made trips to Russia, where he held secret meetings with that country‘s largest diamond producer.
The document which Jacobs sent to the presidency in about 1997, stated that: ‘AngloDeBeers believe that since 1993, Thabo Mbeki and the Russian government were jointly planning to destroy the Central Selling Organisation (De Beers' diamond selling cartel). Further, they believe that Mbeki and Museveni advised [DRC president] Kabila not to give Anglo/De Beers mining concessions, and that instead [he] should give them to American companies, so that the USA will endorse him (Kabila).' This is one of the reports which the Sunday Times described as ‘bizarre'.
Bizarre or not, we all know the chaps at De Beers don't take kindly to even a hint of that sort of thing. But then, of course, things can change over time. Now Mbeki and De Beers are mutual admirers.
Perhaps the most prescient Congress Consultants' report handed to the presidency by Jacobs, concerned the role of business in ANC politics. An extract ‘"he most significant development during 1997 was the strategic role the business front began to play ... Business groupings began to determine groupings and factions within the ANC ... The effect was mainly felt at local and provincial government levels, where pro-Thabo and anti-Thabo groupings were [increasingly] united by their business interests .first and their political loyalties second. The defections and crossing over from one grouping to the next had more to do with self-interest or fall-outs in terms of business deals [than with political differences]. This aspect has now become central in understanding the internal dynamics of the ANC.'
Perhaps it was this insight that prompted the Congress Consultants network to have a closer look at the arms procurement programme.
If, as Pahad suggests, it was Congress Consultants that produced the report which PAC MP Patricia de Lille used to set the arms investigations in motion, then they have achieved a remarkable intelligence coup.
Since mid-1999, Jacobs has been contracted to the Africa Institute in Pretoria, via Congress Consultants, which is now a registered company The Africa Institute is a highly regarded and long-established research body, partially funded by the government.
In a statement issued in response to the Sunday Times expose of Jacobs, Africa Institute Secretary Khehla Moloi said that Congress Consultants had played a ‘dynamic and intense' role in the Institute's achievements. ‘Their strong contacts, both in and out of government, in Africa and internationally, strengthened AISA's international, Parliamentary and Government liaison activities.' Moloi said. ‘We strongly recommend Congress Consultants and look forward to the continuation of our special relationship.'
Sobantu Xayiya, like Jacobs a consultant to the Africa Institute, has confirmed that he attended a number of meetings between Jacobs and Pahad where intelligence reports were passed on. (Xayiya was an ANC parliamentary spokesperson, until he was fired on suspicion of being the source of a Beeld article which revealed that Carl Niehaus was being sent to Holland as ambassador because he had fallen out of favour with the party leadership.)
Their last meeting with Pahad was in November 1998. At that time, according to Xayiya, Pahad accused them of ‘misinforming‘ the President and cut off their existing channels to the presidency The group continued to send reports to the president via other channels for a further year.
‘He was happy to receive those reports for nearly five years. Why are they now suddenly a problem for Pahad?' asks Xayiya.
To return to the arms investigations. There remains a suspicion that the fight about the arms deal is still about the battle to oust Mbeki. Most of those likely to benefit from the deal belong to the so called ‘Indian cabal' and those who have been co-opted by them, like Joe Modise. The profit from the arms deal was perhaps to serve as a war chest for their political ambitions. That suspicion is backed up by the independent testimony of one of the key players in the arms deal, who alluded to the need for resources to ‘resurrect the true spirit of non-racialism' which, he said, had been crushed in ‘Mbeki's ANC‘.
While retaining a sense of loyalty towards Mbeki, the Congress network appears to have moved closer to civil society 'Presently we are witnessing the closing of ranks by party factions which were hitherto antagonistic towards one another, as the noose is drawn tighter around the investigation of the arms deals,' says Xayiya.
You know they (in government) rejoiced when the constitutional court ruled against Judge Heath. Champagne was opened, literally. You have to question things then.
‘But we foresaw that possibility ... that's why we registered Congress Consultants as a company in 1995. That gave us a measure of legal independence.'
Cyril Ramaphosa must be smiling quietly to himself at Pahad‘s predicament. Are the dogs once unleashed on Ramaphosa now turning on their master?
With acknowledgement to Noseweek.