This week several senior police officers were arrested by the Investigating Directorate (ID). They include Khomotso Phahlane, Lieutenant Colonel Godfrey Mahwayi, Major General Maanda Obert Nemutandzhela and Major General Mankosana Agnes Makhele. The investigation into the officers centres around a procurement scandal from the state capture era. It is partly related to the Fees Must Fall protests.
The #FeesMustFall movement was a student movement started in 2016 that called for tuition-free university, outsourcing and decolonisation about universities among other demands.
The investigation looked at a procurement process which was allegedly manipulated for a R54-million splurge on social media monitoring tools and telephone encryption software. In documents which the Mail & Guardian reported as having seen, the officers said the #FeesMustFall protests of 2015 and 2016 had “over stretched” resources and that police did not have a “solution to monitor the social media activities” of the students.
The crime intelligence then decided to procure the software for monitoring related to the protests. Their solution was reportedly to obtain the monitoring tools. In December 2016, a R33-million purchase of a social media monitoring tool called RIPJAR took place. This tool was reportedly “urgently” needed to address Fees Must Fall protests.
In a News24 report on the investigation, it’s mentioned that the IPID investigators could find no evidence that the RIPJAR software was ever delivered. IPID first pursued the probe after they were alerted by a whistleblower. The suspects appeared in court on September 21.
In the documents seen by the Mail and Guardian, Mahwayi reportedly said: “The social media monitoring solution to be procured will be utilised by the analysis capacity of crime intelligence for the profiling [of] suspects. In most cases, these events are organised through social media sites due to the geographical locations of participants [the students].” Mahwayi heads the information technology of the police crime intelligence. He is accused number one.
Other reports of survelliance
Reports around police surveillance on students during the Fees Must Fall protests emerged from Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers. This was related to the infiltration of the student movement. In 2021, during the January 25 sitting of the State Capture Commission, Sydney Mufamadi, the chairperson of the high-level panel into the State Security Agency (SSA) told the commission that the Fees Must Fall movement was infiltrated by the SSA.
Mufamadi said the SSA panel was told that Project Academia was designed to intervene in the #FeesMustFall protests and influence the direction of the student movement.
From 2016, there were already concerns around the lack of state accountability about the surveillance of students. The then-regional coordinator of Right2Protest, Mbalenhle Matandela has raised the concern that state intelligence might be used to inform the state’s politically motivated tactics, as opposed to investigating criminal activity. In 2016, then minister of state security, David Mahlobo claimed that student surveillance was justified.
The six arrested officers will be appearing in court at the end of September.