Cyril Ramaphosa had several opportunities to get rid of Arthur Fraser. He ignored them all, then messed up his response to Farmgate. In doing so, writes JACQUES PAUW, he has jeopardized his own future and endangered the intricate investigation into one of state capture’s biggest villains.
This article and the accompanying images have been reproduced with the kind permission of Vyre Weekblad (https://www.vryeweekblad.com).
THE omnipresence of Arthur Joseph Peter Fraser hangs like an ominous phantom over the political survival of Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa.
South Africa’s most disgraced civil servant seems to have the presidential cojones in a vice and is squeezing Ramaphosa’s political life out of him.
This is a man who was at the centre of the capture of the very institution – the State Security Agency (SSA) – that must safeguard the integrity of the president, the republic and its citizens.
Instead, Fraser and cronies such as Thulani Dlomo turned the spy agency into Jacob Zuma’s personal dirty tricks outfit and ravaged its secret fund.
Fraser has been found by at least four in-depth investigations, including chief justice Raymond Zondo’s state capture commission, to have been complicit over more than a decade in the misappropriation, wastage, theft and disappearance of hundreds of millions of rand.
One of these investigations found that he attempted to set up a parallel intelligence network and might be guilty of treason.
It was uBaba who saved Fraser from probable jail time a decade ago when the Hawks, the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and the Special Investigating Unit were closing in on him and a host of his associates for theft, fraud, corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, transgressions of the Public Finance Management Act and, possibly, treason.
Then the deputy director-general of the SSA, Fraser had established the Principal Agency Network (PAN), a parallel intelligence structure that gobbled up around R600 million of public money without showing any results.
Zuma ordered his then state security minister, Siyabonga Cwele, to stop the investigations in the name of state security. Agents collected dockets from various law enforcement agencies and concealed the evidence in the bowels of SSA headquarters, south-east of Pretoria.
Fraser left the spy agency in disgrace and formed a private company that provided “enterprise-wide risk management services”. He scored several lucrative but questionable state contracts, including at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa).
Zuma knew Fraser was an ally he could rely on, and despite having access to the damning investigation reports he appointed him as SSA director-general in 2016.
Zondo found Fraser’s three-day vetting for the post “circumvented prescribed channels and followed a flawed process”.
It enabled him to lie about being a graduate from the University of London in the UK, an institution he had never set foot in.
Fraser’s rise must be seen against the backdrop of Zuma’s primary objective: to stay out of prison. To avoid spending his last days behind bars, he had to prepare an exit strategy that would guarantee his freedom. That strategy involved getting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma elected as president so she could keep his keepers, key among them Fraser, in place.
During his reign as spy boss, Fraser’s spooks did not investigate one incident of state capture. Instead, Fraser and Dlomo resuscitated the PAN and used the agency’s special operations unit to create a shadow operation within the SSA to serve the interests of Zuma and his cronies.
At the same time, they commanded a criminal network that plundered the agency, placing them alongside the Guptas and Tom Moyane as the worst miscreants spawned by Zuma during his state capture project.
It is therefore no surprise that Fraser is leading the assault on Ramaphosa, who made the fatal mistake of treating him with kid gloves when he became president in February 2018.
Ramaphosa is at least partly responsible for creating this monster. Now his failure to act against rogue politicians and civil servants has returned to haunt him.
February 2018, and as Ramaphosa took the reins and promised zero-tolerance for corruption, Fraser was embroiled in lawfare with then inspector-general of intelligence (IGI), Setlhomamaru Dintwe.
Dintwe was investigating Fraser’s PAN, which resulted in the spy boss accusing the IGI of being in cahoots with the Democratic Alliance (DA). He unlawfully revoked Dintwe’s security clearance.
By then, Ramaphosa must have known about Fraser’s complicity in a host of crimes. I had published The President’s Keepers three months earlier and devoted much space in the book to Fraser and PAN. Ramaphosa said he was reading the book.
I quoted at length from a secret SSA panel report, headed by an advocate, detailing Fraser’s debauchery. After publishing, I also got hold of the IGI’s report on PAN, which came to equally damning conclusions about Fraser.
Ramaphosa should have suspended Fraser and instituted a disciplinary hearing. Instead, he put him in charge of prisons – and faced with a DA application to declare the correctional services appointment unlawful, saying in an affidavit that Fraser was “fit and proper”.
Instability persisted at the SSA, and in June 2018 Ramaphosa appointed the 10-person high-level review panel chaired by ANC veteran Sydney Mufamadi.
The panel fingered Fraser, Dlomo and a host of rogue agents for a series of irregularities and alleged criminality that “may have involved theft, forgery and uttering, fraud, corruption, and even bordered on organized crime”.
This was the third devastating indictment of one of Ramaphosa’s top civil servants. Did he still regard him as “fit and proper”? Probably not, yet he did nothing. And in September 2021, with his retirement imminent, Fraser showed South Africa his middle finger one last time when he unlawfully dished out medical parole to Zuma.
The 57-year-old was allowed to retire with full benefits and an unblemished record.
The state capture commission puts to rest any doubt about the extent of Fraser’s depravity as South Africa’s spy boss. Zondo said in his final report that former state security minister David Mahlobo, Fraser and Dlomo were instrumental in the many illegal activities at the SSA, which were committed at the expense of national security and in the service of Zuma’s narrow personal and political interests.
One of the commission’s witnesses was top civil servant Bob Mhlanga, appointed by Ramaphosa as the head of the SSA domestic branch in March 2019. He headed Project Veza, an investigation into corruption at the agency.
Mhlanga found there were “entrenched corrupt networks” of public officials in the SSA who had taken around R1.5 billion from state coffers. Much of the money disappeared from the agency’s secret fund under the guise of covert operations.
The office manager for Fraser and his predecessor, Gladys Kudjoe, withdrew temporary advances and cash of more than R505 million, more than €6 million and almost US$10 million between 2013 and 2018. Among other things, the money was used for “running operations to pursue political agendas and interfere with the independence of the judiciary and influence civil society”.
Dlomo, described as a “law unto himself” and enabled by the likes of Fraser, was the kingpin of the criminal network that plundered the agency. Known by his intelligence moniker of Silence, he told SSA employees when he arrived at the agency that he reported directly to Zuma. He became untouchable and all-powerful.
Acting SSA director-general Loyiso Jafta told how startling amounts of cash had been carted out of SSA headquarters just before the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg in December 2017. The money was for “operations”.
Zondo said: “The date is given, it is 15 December 2017, ‘Collected R19 million’. And then there is R5 million and there is R1,9 million, there is R900 000 and there is R360 000 … and there is R2,5 million received, there is R2 million received, there is R2,4 million. I think the next one is R1 million, R30 000, R1.3 million. Yes, it is like money – cash just gets dished out to different people.”
Zondo was in for an even greater shock when Jafta told him R9 billion of SSA assets were missing or lost and that R125 million could not be accounted for in the 2017/18 financial year, when Fraser was director-general.
The tentacles of Fraser and Dlomo’s militia and Zuma’s shadow state reached all levels of society. They targeted the Fees Must Fall movement and civic organizations such as Right2Know, the Zuma Must Fall movement and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.
Zondo’s final report is ultimately a chronicle of how a few crooked individuals – Zuma, Mahlobo, Cwele, Fraser and Dlomo – trampled on national security and attempted to dismantle our democracy.
Equally shocking is Ramaphosa’s failure to act against those implicated in what Mhlanga uncovered.
His investigators discovered that Ramaphosa’s choice as state security minister, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, had been involved in SSA operations. She had set up a front company with her husband through which the SSA channeled funds for Zuma’s 2012 ANC presidential campaign against Kgalema Motlanthe.
To scupper Mhlanga’s investigation, Letsatsi-Duba appointed advocate Mahlodi Muofhe as her special adviser. He demanded that Mhlanga hand over the evidence he had found. When he refused, he was suspended for allegedly receiving salaries from the international relations department and the SSA during his transfer from the former (where he was a special adviser to the minister) to the latter.
The SSA said double payment was normal and would be corrected once the transfer was finalised. Said Mhlanga: “I reported [the incident] to President Ramaphosa on 15 May 2019, appealing to him to intervene, on the basis that the charge against me was part of a stratagem to stop the investigation that I had been mandated by him to conduct . To date, I have not had a response.”
With Mhlanga suspended, Letsatsi-Duba appointed Muofhe as domestic head of the spy agency. He was supposed to continue the investigation but according to evidence before Zondo, it was “hampered and sabotaged”.
Not a single intelligence boss nor any of their political heads have faced any consequence for their complicity in the looting and disembowelment of the SSA.
Mhlobo, Zuma’s de facto prime minister during his state capture reign, was minister of energy when Ramaphosa came to power. He was dumped in the first cabinet reshuffle – then appointed as deputy minister of human settlements, water and sanitation.
Cwele, who also stopped a state intelligence investigation into the influence of the Guptas in 2010, was telecommunications minister when Ramaphosa came to power. He stayed on for eight months before Ramaphosa appointed him as ambassador to China – one of the country’s top diplomatic posts.
When SSA domestic head Muofhe retired in December 2021, Ramaphosa appointed him as ambassador to South Sudan. Letsatsi-Duba became ambassador to Turkey.
The most bizarre diplomatic appointment must surely be that of SSA special operations head Dlomo, who was deeply implicated in criminality and dirty tricks. In July 2017, Zuma appointed him as ambassador to Japan.
After Ramaphosa’s high-level review panel exhumed some of his skeletons, Dlomo was recalled in January 2019. He went AWOL and was fired nine months later. When he resurfaced, it was as an ambassador of God on Earth (he says he hears God’s voice all the time) and a divinely inspired peacemaker in Africa.
The Project Veza evidence has subsequently been transferred to the Investigating Directorate (ID) of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which, with the office of the IGI, has embarked on a massive fraud and corruption probe that spans more than a decade of malfeasance at the intelligence agency. The cases are intricate and convoluted, and a top NPA prosecutor has been appointed to assist investigators.
Fraser is destined to be accused number one, charged with fraud, corruption, theft, racketeering and a host of other transgressions. Dlomo will be the second accused and Mahlobo will rub shoulders with them in the dock.
Just the racketeering charge carries a life sentence.
Zuma’s subterfuge during the state capture years has informed suspects such as Fraser and Dlomo on how to make cases disappear.
The first step is to get rid of Ramaphosa and trust their cronies in the ANC to install a successor sympathetic to the radical economic transformation (RET) cabal of the ANC: a Zweli Mkhize, Lindiwe Sisulu or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The constitution gives the president power to appoint the heads of law-enforcement agencies. This enabled Zuma to eviscerate Sars, the NPA, the Hawks, police crime intelligence and the SSA. The same can happen again.
The NPA’s ID was established by Ramaphosa through a proclamation in March 2019. It is therefore temporary and can be disbanded.
Following a recommendation by Zondo in his final report, Ramaphosa announced in October that the ID will become a permanent body with powers like those of the disbanded Scorpions.
Its establishment will, however, take time.
So, as Fraser contemplated his predicament, along came details of “Farmgate” – the theft of foreign currency from Phala Phala.
Seasoned intelligence hack that he is, Fraser took an element of truth (the break-in and the theft of American dollars) and woven layers of muck around it.
He exaggerated the amount that was stolen by about 10 times, added a video to his criminal complaint that had nothing to do with Ramaphosa’s farm, and accused the president of being part of a criminal enterprise that smuggled vast amounts of foreign currency into the country.
It was as if he had taken a turd and cast it in Ramaphosa’s direction, hoping some gobbets would stick. And it worked, in part because the president handled the break-in and theft terribly. He refused to take either parliament or the voters into his confidence to explain exactly what had happened.
A panel headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo has now ruled that Ramaphosa has a case to answer and should face a parliamentary impeachment inquiry.
Fraser has become a hero among the president’s enemies and the RET faction, and is now referred to as a “whistleblower” and a future MP.
It is a frightening thought that this ogre could rise from the putrid morass in which he finds himself.
If that ever happens, South Africans should be very, very scared.