Spy Watch

Is Stalin’s ghost haunting South Africa?

Is Stalin’s ghost roaming SA?

The ‘leaking’ of yet another suspicious ‘intelligence report’ in South Africa follows a disturbing pattern, suggesting there are dark forces at play in government circles.

In his outstanding book, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, the author, Simon Montefiore, gives a fascinating, but also chilling account of the paralysing and  devastating consequences of political smear campaigns during the Stalin dictatorship.

The recent disclosure of a smear campaign targeting the Treasury, dubbed “Project Spider Web”, reminds strongly of those smear campaigns that characterised political life in communist Russian during Stalin’s reign.


An alleged “intelligence report”, recently e-mailed to the Treasury, supposedly sheds light on “Project Spider Web”, purportedly hatched at the very end of apartheid rule in order to ensure white control of the Treasury under an ANC government.

The “intelligence report” is a blatant attempt to smear several past and current top officials from the Treasury and is filled with absurd claims, inconsistencies and laughable code names.

“Project Spider Web” identifies former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, former treasury director-general, Maria Ramos, and the current deputy director-general, Andrew Donaldson, as key figures in an alleged plot of more than 20 years ago by “Apartheid masterminds”. 

The document is so amateurish that any reader with any inkling of what intelligence is about will, at even a superficial perusal, laugh it off as either a hoax or the product of someone hallucinating.

But clearly something much more sinister is at play. Sowing suspicion, distrust, slander and uncertainty seems to be the aim of the “report” on “Project Spider Web”.


Code names like “The King of Leaves"(Manuel) and “The Queen of Leaves"(Ramos), “The Emperor” (Donaldson), together with “The Fog”, “The Jackal”,  ”The Bull” and “The Tiger” have the ring of a police dossier on organised crime that would have been used by top officials at the end of the apartheid administration.

Almost comical are the unsubstantiated and unimaginative claims of the involvement of some globally well-known and wealthy conglomerates and individuals as bankrollers of a complot to undermine a then future ANC-led government.

The Rothschilds? They are accused of many of the ills that have befallen the world since the battle of Waterloo. By comparison “Project Spider Web” is small fry.

Coincidence or pattern?

The “Project Spider Web” document is punctuated by bad spelling and grammar, similar to those in the Africa Intelligence Leaks affair earlier this year. Then Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, EFF leader, Julius Malema, former Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, and Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the trade union AMCU, were accused of working for the American secret service, the CIA.

“Project Spider Web” follows a template very similar to other recently leaked disinformation ‘intelligence reports’, all aimed at smearing and discrediting political actors or influential government officials.

Earlier fake ‘intelligence reports’ include:

  • the ANC spy e-mails, which claimed a political conspiracy by a Xhosa cabal and the Scorpions;
  • the “Browse Mole” report, which claimed that President Zuma’s succession battle was funded by the Libyan government; and
  • the “Ground Cover Intelligence” report in which former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli ‘exposed’ a plot against President Zuma by members of his cabinet.

Other recent victims of character assassination through fake information leaks include:

  • former head of the Scorpions, Bulelani Ngcuka, as a former apartheid agent;
  • former general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zwelinzima Vavi, as receiving support from a US government front organisation;  and
  • Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, for raping a sex worker.


By way of example, it is common knowledge that Trevor Manuel has fallen out of favour with certain factions in the ANC alliance, following his criticism of some policy directions and asking some tough questions, in particular of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

To boot, Manuel also joined the archetypical capitalist Rothschild Group as global advisor in 2014.

The manner in which the people in “Project Spider Web” are incriminated resembles the model perfected by Stalin:

  • Identify those who need to be removed or discredited with their associates;
  • Isolate them and accuse them of wrongdoing with fabricated facts if necessary; and
  • Attack and destroy their credibility.

By manipulating this process the desired result is inevitable.

The case of Andrew Donaldson also serves as a fine example. It is claimed he was a “strategic planner” for Apartheid Intelligence. Donaldson only joined the Department of Finance in 1993, one year before the 1994 elections. This suggests that the purported Apartheid Intelligence masterminds behind “Project Spider Web” must have been exceptionally far-sighted and skilful, or just very, very lucky, to identify and put an “agent in place” that could deliver the proverbial ‘goods’ decades later.

It also raises the question of how the Apartheid Intelligence masterminds succeeded to keep their ‘project’ alive and intact for so long, despite the scrutiny of a new security establishment.  

On the flipside, the existence of the project could have been known all the time and now was the convenient opportunity to expose the evil plan!

Treasury’s response

The Treasury responded that the ‘leaked’ report “appears calculated to sow seeds of suspicion and may be motivated by an unexplainable desire to undermine and destabilise the institution.”

Before recent destabilising upheavals at SARS after the exposure of an internal rogue intelligence (with hints that it was used as the enforcer of “Project Spider Web”) the Treasury was regarded as just about the only remaining credible government department in the country.

Finance Minister Nene has dismissed the “intelligence report” as not credible and defended his officials. Admitting concern about its source and motive, apparently to undermine the department’s integrity, he handed it over to the State Security Ministry for further investigation.

Modus operandi    

Controversial ‘intelligence’ revelations are by their very nature often shrouded in great secrecy, almost always ‘leaked’ for maximum effect and the drafter(s) remain incognito to maximise the impact and frustrate attempts to verify the ‘facts’.

The ‘disclosures’ always have, without exception, a specific goal, usually political or financial or both, and timing is of the essence to maximise impact.

“Project Spider Web” is no exception.

Judged on currently available information, Business Day is probably nearest to the truth by suggesting that it could be an attempt by a faction, or factions, within in the ANC alliance to influence policy in a particular direction.

According to Business Day “The Treasury has been a key institution in maintaining economic stability in South Africa and has successfully withstood the effects of various factional divisions in the ANC alliance, as well as various attacks emanating from different ideological factions. However, as the political focus has now shifted overwhelmingly to the second-phase ‘radical economic transformation’ programme of the ANC, driven strongly by the SACP within the ANC, the Treasury is likely to come under ever more pressure.”

Business Day also reported: “The Treasury is also under much political pressure to agree to a massive nuclear procurement programme led by President Zuma and Energy Minister Joemat-Pettersson, and for which it is said secret deals have already been concluded with Russia.”

Finance Minister Nene, concerned that the Treasury is becoming a target, is on record that he will not give in to political pressure on the plan for procurement of nuclear energy if it is unaffordable.

Carol Paton wrote in Business Day: “The possibility that the same smear tactics used to fight internal ANC battles are now being used in an attack on the Treasury is a frightening indicator of how reckless and dirty our politics has become.” She continuous, that “While anyone with a computer and the internet could have produced the badly written and unconvincing report, the likelihood of this being the work of a lunatic or a mischievous anarchist is small.”


It is disappointing that opposition parties in parliament have allowed the incident to just slip by with no questions as to the what, who, and why of the ‘report’.

Past experience suggests that a public explanation by State Security Minister David Mahlobo is most unlikely. The South African public is still waiting for him to reveal, as promised, who were responsible for the crude attempt to frame Thuli Madonsela and others as CIA spies.

by Garth Cilliers

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