United Front in Ekurhuleni

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Photo by Ashley Fataar

How the SSA harassed United Front activists in Ekurhuleni

Mxolisi Ndimande is coordinator of a civic structure called the Political Discussion Forum in the township of Katlehong, and is provincial secretary of the United Front in Gauteng. In November 2014, he was helping to organise a march under the banner of the United Front, whereby various civic structures planned to deliver a memorandum on service delivery to the Mayor of Ekurhuleni.

As one of the convenors of the march, Ndimande’s details were submitted in the notice sent to the municipality to inform them of the march. On the same day that notice was submitted to the municipality, Ndimande’s phone rang with a call from a private number.

“What type of intervention is this? Everything we are doing is in line with the law.”

It was a woman identifying herself as a representative of the State Security Agency. She told Ndimande that the SSA was “intervening” because of the submission Ndimande had made to the municipal authorities.

According to Ndimande, she was polite at first, but said she wanted to know, “Who are these people who want to march all the time, to disrupt this work of the government?”

“What type of intervention is this?” asked Ndimande. “Everything we are doing is in line with the law.”

The woman wanted the names of the steering committee of his organisation, which he refused to give without speaking to the committee.

“That’s when she began to be furious,” says Ndimande. The woman said she would get back to him after he had consulted his organisation, and ended the call.

A few days later, he got another call from the woman.

“She was no longer very friendly,” says Ndimande wryly. She wanted to know why he had not contacted her, even though she had been the one to say she would call him back, and in any case had contacted him from a private number.

The woman still wanted Ndimande to send her the list of steering committee members, and gave him her email address, before ending the call. He did not send her the list. She called again in the morning, asking to meet with him at a restaurant. Feeling that he “could not trust” her, he declined. That was the last time he heard from her.

Physical surveillance?

During that time, Ndimande also believes that someone had placed his organisation under physical surveillance. In the days before the protest was to take place, a planning meeting took place at a community centre in Katlehong. When the meeting ended, Ndimande noticed two white Corsa bakkies parked outside the centre, with three men standing around. One bakkie had its bonnet popped open like it was broken down. But as people filed out of the centre, the three men were surprisingly interested in the discussions that had taken place inside.

Ndimande remembers, “They asked some of [us], what was the meeting about? Who is chairing the meeting? Who is the leadership? How did we organise people to come to the meeting?”

The following week, Ndimande heard that a ‘municipal official’ had contacted the centre’s administrator to say that the Katlehong Political Discussion Forum shouldn’t be given permission to use the venue again.

The ‘colonel’ from Crime Intelligence

Before the planned march could go ahead, Ndimande and his fellow organisers were called to a pre-protest meeting with the authorities. Ndimande remembers there being five officials in the room, including a superintendent from the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD), the Provincial Commander of the public order policing unit, and a man who was introduced by the superintendent as a colonel from Crime Intelligence. Ndimande says the colonel was casually dressed – in a tracksuit, t-shirt and cap.

Ndimande remembers the meeting being “a very hot debate”, as the officials haggled over the chosen route of the march. However, he says the Crime Intelligence colonel only spoke once: “He wanted to know why do we choose to march instead of engaging [with authorities].”

As we will see, this is not the only case where a Crime Intelligence official questioned the motives of a protest at meetings like this.

The march went ahead successfully. Ndimande says he wants other people to know about these experiences, as he believes they are an example of abuse of the intelligence services.

“When state power is being misused, the only counter is when we speak out,” he says.

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”.

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