Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2008-09-13 Reporter: Chris Barron

Bheki Jacobs : Blew the Lid on Arms-Deal Corruption



Sunday Times



Reporter Chris Barron

Web Link

Man of Many Faces and Names:
Bheki Jacobs was a spy who knew lots of dirty secrets.
Picture: Independent Newspapers

Bheki Jacobs, who has died in Cape Town at the age of 46, was an ANC spy and the key source of information about corruption in the arms deal.

Patricia de Lille used his information in parliament in 1999 when she blew the lid off the saga of kickbacks and caused an immediate national outcry.

He fed information to ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, whose subsequent efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal were stonewalled by the ANC and the government. Feinstein resigned in disgust and wrote an exposť of corruption around the arms deal in a book called After the Party.

Jacobs was an invaluable source for peace activist Terry Crawford-Browne, who passed his information to De Lille and parliament's standing committee on public accounts and wrote about it in his book, Eye on the Money.

Above all, perhaps, it was Jacobs's information which allowed failed arms deal bidder Richard Young to mount a relentless campaign exposing the lies, dishonesty and vested interests at the heart of the arms-deal process.

Young eventually overtook Jacobs as the main authority and source of information about the arms deal, but he makes no bones about the huge debt both he and the country owe the small, pudgy intelligence operator.

For several years the source of this seemingly endless flow of immensely damaging ≠ to the government ≠ information was the most closely guarded secret in the country.

Then, in 2001, Sunday Times journalist Ranjeni Munusamy blew his cover and did her best to rubbish him as a fantasist of Walter Mitty proportions. Munusamy subsequently became a spin doctor for the Shaik brothers and Jacob Zuma.

Her exposure curtailed his usefulness and, his credibility damaged, many of his own sources dried up .

Jacobs was compulsively verbose and clearly enjoyed playing the spy. He would boast about the fact that he had six different passports and went by numerous different names.

"Call me Bheki or Hassen or Solomon or Uranin", he told Feinstein when they met. One of his passports identified him as Uranin Vladimir Dzerzhinsky Solomons.

Much of the information about business leaders, politicians and their deals that he passed on over endless cups of coffee and cigarettes did seem far-fetched, if not fantastical.

But most of it checked out.

It was solid, reliable, uncannily accurate stuff.

Jacobs was born Hassen Solomon in Durban on June 9 1962. He went to Sastri College, where he won just about every academic prize on offer and got up the teachers' noses to such an extent that they suspected he must be someone of abnormally high intelligence. They told his parents to have him assessed and were proved right ≠ his IQ was well above average.

He matriculated with a first class and immediately went into exile. He left home one day to attend the funeral of murdered ANC activist Victoria Mxenge ≠ and never returned.

His family didn't hear a word from or about him until he called them in 1991 to say that he was alive and well and living in Moscow. Until then they had assumed he was dead. They feared they might be dead soon, too.

Their lives were threatened in letters, by phone and to their faces by people they later suspected were members of one or other state-sanctioned hit squad.

Jacobs's most important early influence was his father, Mustapha. A committed ANC activist, Mustapha Solomon was constantly picked up by the security branch, taken away for days at a time and dumped back home, beaten and bruised. Jacobs grew up to the sound of hammering and yelling at the door as police mounted another early-morning raid on the family home.

After leaving South Africa, he joined the ANC's armed wing, MK, and took the name Bheki Jacobs. He became involved in recruiting for MK.

He was incarcerated at the ANC Quattro punishment camp in Angola on suspicion of being mixed up with a rebellion of cadres. He spent a lot of time in Moscow, where he studied political science, underwent intelligence training and became fluent in Russian.

Jacobs returned to the country at the end of 1994 and worked as an ANC intelligence operative from Luthuli House headquarters before starting his own intelligence business, Congress Consultants. He produced intelligence reports for Thabo Mbeki and, he claimed, shared many an evening and bottle of whisky with him in his office when he was deputy president.

Then there was a fallout, probably over suspicions that he was involved in compiling information about arms-deal corruption. The ANC and the presidency spread the word that Jacobs was an impostor and had nothing to do with ANC intelligence.

At 3am one morning in 2003, police burst into his home, arrested him on suspicion of conspiring to kill President Mbeki and flew him to Pretoria in police commissioner Jackie Selebi's private jet.

He was subjected to harsh interrogation, but released after a court appearance.

It emerged that he had written a report alleging a plot by the president's diary committee and VIP protection squad to kill Mbeki by tampering with the presidential jet.

Jacobs never married, but he had a volatile relationship with the woman who was the mother of his two children, an eight-year-old girl, Kiarra, and an 11-year-old boy, Kirril.

He moved back to his parents' house when he was diagnosed with renal cell cancer *1 in February.

With acknowledgements to Chris Barron and Sunday Times.

Bheki was a very fine South African.

May he rest in peace.

*1      Maybe renal cell collapse caused by something else.