An IPID investigation found that R33 million was used to spy on Fees Must Fall activists.

Fees Must Fall (#FMF) activists are threatening to hold the state accountable after former Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head Robert McBride alleged that R33 million was used to spy on them during the 2016 protests.

In an affidavit that formed part of a counter-application to a subpoena by the South African Police Services (SAPS), McBride stated that, “Ipid’s investigation revealed that, during ‘Fees Must Fall’ protests in December 2016, SAPS Crime Intelligence paid I-View [a business risk solutions company] a sum of R33 million for software aimed at monitoring social media sites, known as ‘RIPJAR software,”

One of the #FMF leaders and masters student, Busisiwe Seabe, told Wits Vuvuzela that the spying allegations stated in the affidavit by former IPID head Robert McBride were not surprising.

“We had mentioned that the state was following us, tapping our phones and intimidating us. It’s a disappointment that people would believe us when McBride said it. We needed the public to come out and on social media too. [The spying] violates our rights to privacy as citizens,” Seabe said.

“It’s a relief that the country can see the state for what it is,” Seabe said.  “What the state really is doing is a violation of social justice action.”

According to Seabe, the #FMF leaders had asked Wits computer science students to track their cellphones after a Wits student, Arthur Muhamelwa, was allegedly kidnapped in 2016, to monitor their whereabouts at all times.

The activist said that it was at this time that they were informed by the computer science students that their cellphones were being tapped. The leaders then switched to walkie-talkies and used code words to communicate.

“Two government intelligence officers sent to spy on us approached us and told us that myself, [and other #FMF leaders], Vuyani Pambo and Mcebo Dlamini were being targeted and that the least they could do was to inform us of the platforms on which we were being watched.

“We were also told not to go to Kitcheners [a Braamfontein bar] where we used to hang out. They told us to look out for cars with two antennas as those were intelligence cars. We also had to keep changing accommodation,” the 24-year-old said.

McBride’s affidavit stated that there was no evidence that the service was ever handed over by I-View, or that the RIPJAR software was ever installed on the SAPS Crime Intelligence systems, despite the R33 million being paid to I-View two days after the purchase was made.

University of Johannesburg head of the department of journalism, film and television Professor Jane Duncan, who has written about the movement, told Wits Vuvuzela that she suspected that the purchase of the software was “bogus” and that the money was pocketed instead.

“But the fact that #FeesMustFall was used as a pretext at all, suggests that Crime Intelligence was monitoring the movement. In any event, Jacques Paw [in The President’s Keepers] stated that Crime Intelligence paid students to infiltrate and inform on the movement, but at some stage they ran out of money for this project,” the professor said.

“We want an adequate explanation as to why; why our rights were infringed on. We want to know the way forward from the Chapter 9 institutions,” Seabe said. “It is unacceptable for the state to spy on citizens, especially if citizens aren’t terrorists, which they made us out to be.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Fees Must Fall Activists say that they were followed and intimidated by the state, and that their phones were tapped.                                                                                                         Photo: File