South Africa

ANALYSIS: Malema and Rampedi spin outlandish new ‘rogue unit’ narrative

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, left, EFF leader Julius Malema, centre, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, right, former South African President Jacob Zuma, background. (Photos: Tiso Blackstar Group / Alon Skuy | Leila Dougan) | Gallo Images / Felix Dlangamandla | EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Julius Malema and Piet Rampedi have moved the ‘rogue unit’ narrative to the next level of absurdity in their attempt to use it as a blunt instrument to hammer away at anything that threatens those implicated in State Capture.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” said the Queen to Alice.

The antics and devilry of the mythical SARS “rogue unit” are growing more fantastical by the day. According to recent utterings by its two main proponents, EFF leader Julius Malema and Independent Newspapers investigations editor Piet Rampedi, the unit brought Jacob Zuma to power, was his personal dirty tricks gang and arranged for Pravin Gordhan to be appointed as finance minister in 2009.

The “rogue unit” narrative, which emerged in October 2014 with claims in the Sunday Times that a SARS investigations unit planted listening devices in Zuma’s home in Forest Hill in Johannesburg, has now morphed into a unit that served the interests of Zuma and spied on his opponents.

Many of the earlier claims made by three Sunday Times journalists, Rampedi, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter, have been discredited. Not a single investigation or legal opinion – and there were many – has found that the unit ran a brothel or that Zuma was bugged.

As soon as one claim was shot down, a brand new or altered claim surfaced. Malema and Rampedi have now moved the “rogue unit” narrative to the next level of absurdity in their attempt to use it as a blunt tool to hammer away at anything that threatens those implicated in State Capture or serious criminality.

Astonishingly, both Malema and Rampedi have now completely altered the entire thrust of their original stories. They not only contradict their older versions and their own claims, but even the contested controversial findings by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Malema’s latest flip-flop about the “rogue unit” took place at Iqbal Survé’s Press Club of South Africa in Cape Town on Friday last week, just a day after the EFF disrupted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address in Parliament.

His latest allegations diametrically contradict his own prior version in an affidavit submitted under oath in an application to the Constitutional Court in support of Mkhwebane.

Until now, Malema has never revealed that he has “information” that Zuma used the “rogue unit” to fight his personal political and factional battles.

If what Malema told his audience at the Press Club was true, the EFF leader has clearly withheld crucial information from Mkhwebane and the courts in his many affidavits about the “rogue unit”.

And a few months ago, Rampedi, the self-proclaimed primary author of the now discredited and retracted Sunday Times “rogue unit” articles – added a new piece to the saga when he revealed in a radio interview that he has information that the “rogue unit” bugged the phones of former president Thabo Mbeki and the then-minister of justice Bridget Mabandla.

According to Rampedi, who spoke on PowerFM, the “rogue unit” then “sent a delegation” to Nkandla at the end of 2007 where they handed Zuma the recorded conversations of Mbeki and Mabandla discussing his prosecution.

Rampedi’s most fantastic claim was about Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, when he said: “As part of the bargaining, we were told that the people who were sent there [to Nkandla], then negotiated for Pravin Gordhan to become finance minister. They then said, look, all we want is for you to appoint Pravin Gordhan as the minister of finance.”

If Malema and Rampedi are to be believed, the “rogue unit” might be at the centre of State Capture!

***

Malema’s latest rant at the Press Club was made to a room full of journalists who were afterwards given an opportunity to ask him questions. Astonishingly, no one asked a question about his outlandish claims.

Neither did the interviewer, Independent Media political editor and former ANN7 broadcaster Sifiso Mahlangu. He left no doubt where his sentiments lie when he started his “rogue unit” interrogation of Malema with the words: “I want to talk to you about SA’s contentious issue: the rogue unit. For those of us who know and believe that the rogue unit existed…”

Mahlangu asked Malema about the decision of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Shamila Batohi, to withdraw charges against “rogue unit accused” Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg and former Special Projects Unit (the “rogue unit”) head, Andries Janse van Rensburg, last week.

Malema said: “I’m the first person to report the rogue unit in this country in 2010. I went to SARS offices, I met Pillay, I met Oupa Magashula, I gave them a document which was brought to my office about the rogue unit. They followed me in 2010. When I book a room in Hilton Hotel, they will book next door and put devices to listen to my activities. I went to complain there about this conduct. They followed [Fikile] Mbalula, they followed Zizi [Kodwa], they followed everyone that was supporting Zuma.”

Malema gave no dates, names, room numbers or anything to substantiate his new claims. He had a meeting with Pillay and Magashula in 2010 to discuss his tax affairs. Former SARS undercover agent Mike Peega’s dossier was not discussed during this meeting.

Malema then added the following:

“The rogue unit, on the eve of Zuma becoming president, and they saw it was untenable, they provided him with the relevant documents which made sure that he became the president. That’s why they developed a relationship.”

Malema has never said this before and has never alluded to the fact that the “rogue unit” provided Zuma with evidence that enabled him to become president. But he wasn’t finished yet and said:

“Zuma investigated the rogue unit and found that there was a rogue unit. Zuma, in his typical way, instead of dismantling it, and make sure (sic) that these people are prosecuted, he inherited the rogue unit and continued with its illegal activities. Even under Zuma, they operated to pursue the people who didn’t want Zuma.”

Malema has never before alluded to the fact that the “rogue unit” provided “relevant documents” to the former president to ensure his election to the highest office. What are these “documents” he refers to? And why has he never said anything about it?

Who investigated the rogue unit? What illegal activities? And why was it necessary to investigate the rogue unit after it handed him the relevant documents? Didn’t he already know about the unit? Malema said they then pursued “people that didn’t want Zuma”. Who were they? And how does Malema know this?

This brings us to the significance of Malema’s flip-flop. He has now told the public, in open forum and on the record, that Zuma knew of the unit and that he used it against his enemies.

In her “rogue unit” report, Mkhwebane introduced a new rationale as to why the unit was unlawful. She essentially based her finding of unlawfulness on the premise that the establishing of the unit contravened section 209 of the Constitution. She said only the president could have established such a unit.

It has now emerged, according to Malema, that Zuma knew about the unit all along.

Malema’s deputy, Floyd Shivambu, was the complainant in the public protector matter on behalf of the EFF. Malema has since, in various legal disputes, gone under oath in support of Mkhwebane’s findings. He never said a word of Zuma’s knowledge of the unit. Had he done so, he would have contradicted her.

Malema said in an affidavit to the Constitutional Court on 19 July 2019: “We’ve never really been told what SARS’ sleuths in the Rogue Unit got up to, but presumably they kept themselves busy with, to use Mr Gordhan’s words: ‘clandestine activit[ies]’ and ‘collecting tactical intelligence’.”

It has now emerged that Malema knows what the “rogue unit” operatives kept themselves busy with. Why didn’t he tell that to Mkhwebane and the apex court?

***

It seems as though Malema and Rampedi, who openly flaunts his admiration for the EFF commander-in-chief on Twitter, compared notes about the “rogue unit” at one stage, but then got their wires crossed.

In Rampedi’s PowerFm appearance on 8 July last year, presenter Aldrin Sampear asked him if there was any truth in the rumour that the so-called “spy tapes” were “procured by SARS through this rogue unit” and given to Zuma’s lawyers.

Said Rampedi: “There is an element of truth to that. That particular rogue unit bugged the conversation between Brigitte Mabandla and former president Thabo Mbeki and many other people. At the time they [the ‘rogue unit’] were actually supporting former president Jacob Zuma. And they were suspicious of the conversations that were happening amongst a whole lot of people within the Mbeki camp at the time. 

“They targeted Brigitte Mabandla, a key member of the Mbeki camp, and then they also targeted Vusi Pikoli and many other people. During that operation they managed to intercept that communication. And what we were told was that immediately after Polokwane, when JZ won the case and he was battling to get his credibility and was trying to get the charges drop (sic), we were told they took that audiotape, they approached JZ, send (sic) a delegation to Nkandla…”

Sampear: “Who are they?”

Rampedi: “Members of the rogue unit. They sent a delegation to Nkandla to meet former president Jacob Zuma. That delegation included Oupa Magashula, who was the SARS commissioner at the time… When they went there they then presented that audiotape to Zuma and said: Look, we know you want to be president; and that charges against you are still there. You need to listen to this tape and take it from there…”

Let us stop here for a moment. 

It is the first time ever that anyone has suggested that the conversations of Mbeki and Mabandla were intercepted and recorded. This is major news, yet in the more than 35 articles that Rampedi, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter wrote about the “rogue unit”, they never mentioned that the unit bugged the phone of then-president Thabo Mbeki and his justice minister. Why not?

It is also emerging now that the unit had in fact never bugged Zuma and his supporters, but instead, supported Zuma! This was despite the Sunday Times stating in big, bold headlines in October 2014: “SARS bugged Zuma”.

Rampedi alleged that the “handing over of the tapes” happened “immediately after Polokwane” and that the delegation was led by “then SARS commissioner” Oupa Magashula.

It is impossible for this to have happened. The ANC’s elective conference at Polokwane took place in December 2007. Magashula was only appointed as the commissioner of SARS on 30 July 2009 – a year and a half later.

Rampedi then said: “But because of how the tapes were recorded, which was illegal, apparently they [the ‘rogue unit’] lobbied members of the SAPS crime intelligence unit, led by Mulangi Mpeghu, and they said we want you to take ownership of this tape. And some discussions took place and [Lieutenant-General Richard] Mdluli, who was firmly in the camp of Zuma at the time, agreed to take ownership of those tapes. They started producing retrospectively paperwork, creating an impression that crime intelligence was involved in a project and that there were memos that were backdated and then they said the tapes were recorded by crime intelligence…”

So now, according to Rampedi, the “rogue unit” was in cahoots with Mdluli and his cronies to help Zuma? So much so that Mdluli took the unit’s “tapes” and made them his own?

It again makes no sense. Why would crime intelligence have been willing to produce paperwork that showed that they bugged the president and the minister of justice?

And by the way, Mdluli had nothing to do with crime intelligence in 2007. He was then the deputy police commissioner of Gauteng. He was only appointed as the head of crime intelligence on 1 July 2009.

Besides, the “Spy Tapes” saga has been dealt with in multiple court cases and its origins established beyond any doubt. Did Rampedi and Sampear miss all of this?

Rampedi’s allegation that Magashula and his “rogue unit” entourage lobbied for Gordhan to become finance minister is as ludicrous. The reaction of Aldrin Sampear to Rampedi’s latest revelation was telling when he said: “It sounds like a hectic spy novel… but this is real life.”

The second major story in the Sunday Times exposé in November 2014 read: “Taxman’s rogue unit ran brothel”. According to the story, the unit’s members were told to establish businesses as “covers” and that a Durban-based brothel was one such venture.

It was just five days after the publishing of this story that Moyane disbanded the SARS executive because of this headline.

One of the authors of the story, Hofstatter, has in the meantime admitted that the Sunday Times didn’t have evidence that there was a brothel.

Last year, when confronted by one of the SARS executives that Moyane booted out, Peter Richer, he said: “We made mistakes with those stories. There were serious errors and you are right that those stories were used to attack institutions that were trying to stop the looting. Peter, I am sorry that this had this huge impact on your life.”

When asked about the brothel on PowerFM, Rampedi said: “The brothel that was run by members of the rogue unit but was not registered officially as an entity of the unit. We did speak to people who were part of that brothel, and there were (sic) also a statement at the time from Mike Peega and many other people who said they were running a brothel in Durban. But officially it was not accounted for…”

So now, years later, according to Rampedi, the unit did in fact NOT run a brothel?

Rampedi has consistently lambasted the Sunday Times for its retractions, accusing it of all kinds of conspiracies, saying he stood by every sentence of the articles.

It seems this is now being chipped away slowly through his admissions and the latest versions of Malema’s claims.

There are other blatant lies being flaunted by Rampedi to support his “rogue unit” claims. For example: in an interview with NewzRoom Afrika on 9 July last year, he mentioned the investigations that had found that a rogue unit existed at SARS.

He said: “They [SARS] commissioned independent investigations, the first one was called the Kanyane Report. They hired a lawyer called Kanyane and they did an internal investigation. That report came out and said there was a rogue unit. It was illegal and there was no legal basis.”

This is nonsense. Attorney Moeti Kanyane was appointed by Ivan Pillay in June 2014 to investigate the allegations of SSA agent and attorney Belinda Walter against Van Loggerenberg. The panel concluded its report on 12 August 2014 and said it found no evidence to sustain her allegations and questioned the veracity of her claims.

The terms of reference of this panel made no mention of claims of a “rogue unit” at all. Such an allegation didn’t exist just yet. Kanyane never investigated a “rogue unit” and it is not mentioned in his report.

In fact, the “rogue unit” narrative only emerged many months later on 12 October 2014 when the Sunday Times splashed with “SARS bugged Zuma”.

***

In order to understand Malema and Rampedi’s turnabout, one must look at the history of the “rogue unit” narrative. The narrative is at the centre of the fightback campaign against Ramaphosa and Gordhan and is spearheaded by Malema and the EFF, the public protector and the Ace Magashule faction in the ANC, seemingly to target Gordhan and ultimately to weaken Ramaphosa.

Let’s start with Mkhwebane. She found in July last year that the unit was involved in a host of illegal and rogue activities. Mkhwebane never called any of the “rogue unit” managers or any of its members to testify in front of her.

She based many of her findings on a 2014 report by the then-inspector-general of intelligence (IGI), advocate Faith Radebe, who found that the unit was formed in contravention of the Tax Administration Act of 2011.

The difficulty with her reasoning is that the unit was formed in 2007 – when this law did not exist.

Radebe was instructed by the then-minister of state security, David Mahlobo, to investigate newspaper reports that the Special Operations Unit (SOU) and other branches at the State Security Agency (SSA) had plotted to remove the top structure at SARS.

Instead of investigating the SOU, Radebe set her sights on the “rogue unit”. The IGI has an oversight function over the SSA, Defence Intelligence and police crime intelligence. Radebe had no mandate to investigate SARS.

Radebe interviewed the former executive of investigations at SARS, Van Loggerenberg, during which he handed her voluminous files of evidence about the involvement of the SOU and other units in the capturing and subsequent destruction of SARS. She ignored the information and it has recently emerged that Van Loggerenberg’s files disappeared from safekeeping at the IGI.

Mkhwebane and Radebe, both incidentally former analysts at the SSA, relied heavily on a“dossier” compiled by former SARS employee Michael Peega in 2009. Neither of the two has, however, interviewed him.

Peega, a former member of the SPU, was arrested for rhino poaching (he confessed to it in a subsequent affidavit to the police) and fired from SARS after a disciplinary hearing and appeal process.

Intent on revenge, Peega compiled a dossier that became known as Project Snowman. Several other disgruntled SARS employees made an input to Peega’s dossier. It alleged that members of the unit received paramilitary training, were equipped with high-tech spying equipment and spied on politicians who were sympathetic to Zuma.

Peega also handed his dossier to Malema. He knew the then-ANCYL leader because he freelanced for him and other youth leaders like Fikile Mbalula as a bodyguard.

When Malema released Peega’s allegations early in 2010, he claimed he had evidence that showed that SARS had targeted senior Zuma supporters. He effectively fingered Gordhan – the former SARS chief – as being behind the campaign against “Zuma people”.

That was then. Now, says Malema, it was the other way around!

In 2009 and 2010, SARS briefed members of Parliament, newspaper editors, politicians and senior civil servants about Peega’s dossier. They refuted his claims line for line with files of records released.

Van Loggerenberg was instructed to brief Malema and met him in February 2010 at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria where the SARS executive refuted Peega’s dossier and gave Malema a file in support of his briefing. He said Malema was happy and offered to brief Zuma. SARS had briefed Zuma anyway with the same files.

When Malema afterwards fell out with the ANC, he flip-flopped by blaming SARS as a tool being used by Zuma against him. In May 2014, when Malema finally settled his R20-million tax dodge with SARS, he apologised to SARS and all officials whom he had attacked.

Peega’s discredited allegations disappeared, until they were dug up and dusted off by Rampedi and his colleagues at the Sunday Times.

SARS was at the time investigating Zuma for failing to submit his tax returns and the Nkandla upgrades, his son Edward Zuma, his nephew Khulubuse Zuma, the Guptas and a host of organised criminals and tax evaders with links to the first family and the ANC. The plot to unseat the then-SARS executive committee was, among other reasons, designed to stop these investigations.

The “rogue unit” narrative was used to capture SARS and to rid the service of its top executives, among them acting commissioner Ivan Pillay, chief officer Gene Ravele, strategic planning executive Pete Richer and Van Loggerenberg.

In the next three years, Tom Moyane gutted the organisation and announced a revenue shortfall of altogether R95-billion. He disbanded all the investigations units.

Since Moyane’s disastrous reign at SARS, Zuma’s departure and the collapse of the State Capture project, the “fightback brigade” has used Mkhwebane’s “rogue unit” report and Radebe’s 2014 report to revive the “rogue unit” stories.

The “rogue unit” has been at the centre of a host of investigations and legal opinions. There have been at least five legal opinions – three in 2007 when it was established and another two that were obtained by Moyane. Four of the opinions, by among others senior counsel Wim Trengove, said the establishment of the unit was legal. Moyane hid this opinion away from the public eye for years.

The fifth, by advocate Martin Brassey SC, mentioned that the unit might be “possibly unlawful” but said more facts would have to be obtained for a conclusive opinion. This was never done.

In 2014, a report by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane found there was prima facie evidence that the unit was “unlawful”. Sikhakhane never interviewed either Pillay or Van Loggerenberg or any of the “rogue unit” members about the establishment and operations of the unit.

Moyane subsequently appointed the audit firm KPMG to investigate the “rogue unit”. The 139-page KPMG report found no evidence of the illegal bugging of Zuma or that SARS had kept a brothel – as the Sunday Times stated in headlines as fact.

It did, however, say that the unit was established “in contravention of the rule of law” and engaged in illegal activities. However, in September 2017, KPMG International announced that it found, after an “exhaustive investigation”, that their South African office had no evidence to conclude that there was a “rogue unit” at SARS. It withdrew all its findings and recommendations and paid back the R23-million that it charged Moyane for the report.

Following Sikhakhane and KPMG, the minister of finance appointed retired judge Frank Kroon to review the unit. He merely rubber-stamped Sikhakhane and KPMG’s findings. 

Three years later, Kroon took the stand at the Nugent Commission, appointed by Ramaphosa to investigate governance at SARS in 2018, and testified that his board had been wrong in making a finding of the unlawfulness of the unit. He concluded that he would be in favour of the unit being re-established at SARS and would “recommend” this.

Retired Appeal Court judge Robert Nugent and his panel of tax experts also found that there was no reason to conclude that the unit was unlawfully established.

It is incredible that more than five years after the “exposure” of the “rogue unit” and all the subsequent investigations, nobody has investigated or revealed what the unit did. Former members themselves have been begging for years to disclose the 80 investigations they conducted between the establishing of the unit in 2007 and its closure in October 2014. These members are legally forbidden from talking about these operations.

Surely this will tell us which taxpayers were bugged, how, when and by whom, who had their mail and rubbish bins stolen, who infiltrated the various politicians and how Malema was spied upon – if at all. DM