How community leaders in Makause learned their activities were being monitored
General” Alfred Moyo is the organiser of Macodefo, a civic organisation in the Makause informal settlement in Primrose, Germiston. Macodefo (short for ‘Makause Community Development Forum’) formed in 2007 to assist residents who were facing forced evictions; government had a plan to relocate residents of Makause to a site 40 kilometres away. Led by Macodefo – with General Moyo at the front – many residents bitterly resisted this plan, a number of aspects of which appear to have been illegal, leading to a souring of relations between SAPS officials and Macodefo and its supporters.
Today, Macodefo continues anti-eviction work, and has campaigned against xenophobia, police brutality, and a range of other social ills affecting the community, as well as taking up many of the Right2Know Campaign’s programmes.
For General Moyo, there is no question that SAPS is gathering information on his organisation, although he isn’t sure if Crime Intelligence is specifically involved.
“Sometimes they are pre-informed of our meetings, we don’t even know who phoned them.”
“Some would phone me if we distributed some pamphlets, because my phone number would be there on the pamphlet,” he says. “The detective would phone me to pretend as if they are interested in my pamphlets and they would want to participate in our march or they will want to be in our meeting. Asking for a venue, what time, all those sorts of things. Some are even wanting to be my friend on Facebook,” he says.
But Macodefo activists also believe that police officers were gathering information using more covert methods. “Some are actually residents of Makause. They are deployed to be in Makause to trace us. They used to even attend our meetings.” After the organisation hosted a public meeting, a sympathetic source in SAPS “came back to us and say there were two police officers who were amongst us in this meeting. But they were in private uniforms [plain clothes].”
Moyo was also privately informed by a SAPS member that police had recruited certain residents to be informers on Macodefo’s activities in the community. He explains that when Macodefo engaged with the municipality, they would often invite several community members to the meeting to provide an independent report-back to other residents. But he later learned that at least some of these residents might have also been reporting to police.
“Those members used to pretend they were our members but each and every time they will phone the police after our meeting … so the police will know everything. Those police officers who are on our side, told us that at the police station they were discussing us, discussing a report that they got from this group. Sometimes they are pre-informed of our meetings, we don’t even know who phoned them.”
Again, these experiences are just a small aspect of an extraordinary level of abuse experienced by Macodefo activists and Moyo in particular. This reached its pinnacle in 2012, when, in response to a peaceful Macodefo-organised protest against police brutality in Makause, the local station commander charged Moyo with “intimidation” under the apartheid-era Intimidation Act. The charges were finally dropped in early 2015, and the station commander has long since moved on, but General reports that his organisation is having the same difficulties with the new SAPS leadership.
TAKE AWAY QUESTIONS
• How can suspected surveillance sow division in communities and within organisations?
• If much of what we do know about surveillance was revealed only by chance, how much could be happening that we don’t know about?
• Is crime intelligence being used as a non-transparent and one-way substitute for healthy relations between police and communities?