United Front budget day march
United Front activist gets mysterious questions from a long-lost ‘comrade’
‘Simon’ is active both in R2K and the interim structures of the United Front, and was helping to prepare for the United Front’s big protest on Budget Day. Two days before the protest, he got a call from an old comrade, a person he has known since the days of the struggle, who had also once worked for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
He wanted to ask Simon about the protest, which he said he heard about “from a friend”. He was interested in being part of the event, he said. He started to ask Simon a lot of questions about the demands of the protest and about the United Front itself, especially the question of whether the United Front would become a political party. Simon remembers him asking: “Where are you thinking of going with the United Front? Are you thinking of going political with this?”
Simon remembers feeling “very suspicious and very fearful”. He knew his comrade’s old affiliation with National Intelligence and found these questions very invasive – and said so.
Asking for documents
The next day, Simon got a visit from his old comrade. Simon says the man was still making it seem as if he was just interested in finding out information for “his friend” – and possibly interested in joining the United Front himself.
Simon’s old comrade asked for a copy of the memorandum that would be handed over. He wanted to know who would be leading the march itself, how many people are expected to attend. He wanted to know who was funding the United Front and how much money it had. He even wanted attendance registers, says Simon.
“Your ‘friend’ is wanting a lot of information,” Simon told him, feeling certain that his comrade had been sent to spy on him. “Please let your ‘friend’ know that he must come meet me face-to-face.”
Simon never asked point-blank if his comrade was acting on behalf of his old employers in the intelligence structures. But it appears Simon’s coded question hit home. “You know I left my job,” his old comrade told him, “but the guys are still calling me [to get information] when they hear something.”
Simon is certain that his old comrade had been sent to gather intelligence on the United Front, but doesn’t fully understand why, or even by whom. “Are they trying to make us fearful? Are they trying to prepare themselves for what they think may happen? Are they trying to create a diversion?”
TAKE AWAY QUESTIONS
- • What does it mean for democracy if political activity is being mediated without our consent, by non-transparent institutions?
- • If the intelligence structures are interested in the activities of the United Front, is this a sign that these structures are serving the interests of the ANC?
- • If these are bona fide intelligence activities, are they legal? The Constitution forbids South Africa’s security services to “prejudice a political party interest” or “further, in a partisan manner, any interest of a political party”.