21 March 2023 | 11:50 PM

Editorial: Red flags bedevil NPA boss

Key Takeaways

The term “information peddler” has been a swearword in South Africa ever since it was used by Jacob Zuma’s supporters to discredit the Scorpions’s “Browse Mole” report, and specifically its suggestion that the Angolan government was covertly backing Zuma’s campaign for the leadership of the ANC. It was indeed a flawed document, but it is noteworthy that many of its sources were extremely useful to the South African intelligence establishment in other contexts. The whispers that Zuma drew on foreign support in his battle against Thabo Mbeki have never been entirely dispelled.


The subtext of the attacks on Browse Mole was that there is something disreputable about “privatising” the intelligence function, and that freelance information gatherers necessarily have sinister, possibly treasonous motives.In fact, every intelligence service in the world pays private agents for information. What is really at issue is the agenda of the supplier and whether the information is reliable.

This week we report that the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Shaun Abrahams, previously had links with private intelligence operators. The case had to do with an alleged liquidation scam and the canard that billions of Libyan dollars were stashed in South Africa.

Abrahams says he cut ties with these “information peddlers with ulterior motives” two years ago. There is plenty to indicate, however, that he initially took their claims to heart – he referred them to a prosecutor, in one case – and should perhaps have kept them at arm’s length. One of them had been arrested for gold smuggling and now faces charges over the illegal possession of sophisticated phone-tapping technology. There are also allegations that their information may have been used in the NPA’s endless faction fights.

Abrahams has already raised red flags by intervening in the politically sensitive prosecution of his deputy, Nomgcobo Jiba, in a way that in effect bolsters one NPA faction. His flirtation with these particular “information peddlers” raises further concerns about his judgment.

*This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Mail & Guardian.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Aisha Abdool Karim

Aisha is a freelance science and health reporter. She is joining the amaB team to work on a project about water and sanitation. Aisha’s passion for long-form narrative and investigative journalism was sparked while doing her master’s degree at Columbia University in New York. After graduating in 2018, she returned to South Africa and began working as a general beat reporter for the Daily Maverick. Aisha joined the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism in 2020 to focus on science reporting. During her time there, she covered the COVID-19 pandemic extensively — from fact-checking harmful medical misinformation to unpacking the science behind vaccine development. Aisha’s special interests include analysing health systems and in-depth coverage of public health issues and infectious diseases. She also loves spreadsheets and digging through data.

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