Spies snoop on greens
Intelligence agencies are keeping a close eye on activists ahead of this month’s big climate change COP17 conference.
A number of activists have told City Press about intelligence sources breathing down their necks in anticipation of protest actions being launched during the climate talks.
“The sudden attention concerns us a lot,” said activist S’bu Zikode from Durban based Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement. “They are phoning us, watching us.”
He said crime intelligence officers were making regular phone calls to his members, asking them what they planned for COP17 as well as questioning them about the organisation and who their leaders were. Officials also made an appointment to visit Zikode personally, but never arrived.
The movement has been a constant thorn in the side of the Durban authorities, and is planning to bring 10 000 people to civil society’s big march at COP17 on December 3.
“Why crime intelligence’s interest in us all of a sudden? They are obsessed with us now,” he said. “Even our normal actions, which can be quite militant, don’t usually attract such a lot of attention.”
Activist Bobby Peek, director of KwaZulu-Natal-based environmental group groundWork, said the police crime intelligence unit was quite upfront in their surveillance.
“They come to me, identify themselves and ask what we are planning for COP17.”
He said some members have reported strange people attending COP17 meetings. Peek said he suspected it might be national intelligence agency (NIA) agents, but said no one could be sure.
Several prominent civil society groups confirmed to City Press that they have been questioned by the Durban police ahead of the climate talks.
“There is an overt focus on us. They definitely want to know what we are planning,” said an activist from a prominent environmental organisation.
Jane Duncan of the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies has also picked up on the intelligence gathering, saying there is clear evidence of activists being under surveillance.
She said the same thing happened in the run-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, when intelligence services monitored activists’ activities, leading to pre-emptive arrests and attempts to ban gatherings.
Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo told her that crime intelligence was part of the co-ordinating committee for COP17.
“They will be asking lots of questions to identify threats to the event so that we can prepare ourselves,” he said. “This is in no way intended to intimidate people.”
“We can prepare for planned demonstrations, but we must also anticipate unplanned demonstrations. So far, no serious threats have been identified.”
Peek believes the government wanted to avoid the embarrassment to the country’s image that a huge crowd of South African protesting about social justice could pose. “But let them monitor us,” he said. “We have nothing to hide.”
NIA spokesperson Brian Dube said the country’s security and law enforcement agencies have done all the necessary assessments to ensure a safe event. He said the plans will be managed and coordinated through the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.
“We call upon our people and visitors to work together with us in order to ensure a successful, incident-free event,” Dube said.