Parliamentary staff fear a witch-hunt is under way as a private intelligence company – with links to apartheid-era superspy Neil Barnard, ex-police commissioner George Fivaz and top former intelligence officials Moe Shaik and Gibson Njenje – has been brought in to question staff about media leaks related to the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the head of the parliamentary protection services and her deputy.
The Weekend Argus has reliably confirmed that:
* The cautionary suspensions of Zelda Holtzman, head of parliamentary protection services, and her deputy, Motlatsi Mokgatla, have been extended by 30 days.
* Protection staff were instructed to escort Holtzman from the parliamentary precinct when she returned to work this week.
* Some parliamentary staff were recently questioned by members of Foresight Advisory Services.
Holtzman and Mokgatla were suspended early last month after reports of an alleged burglary at the offices of EFF president Julius Malema, as well as a report published in July by a Sunday newspaper detailing the apparently irregular use of blue lights by parliamentary protection staff while transporting Parliament’s secretary, Gengezi Mgidlana, and his relatives.
It is understood from reliable sources that the suspensions are connected to the existence of a report on the blue light matter and the controversial recruitment and training of police officers to join Parliament’s protection services.
The entry of private sector professional spooks into the intrigue surrounding the suspensions of Holtzman and Mokgatla is said to have had a “chilling effect” on parliamentary staff, many of whom fear a witch-hunt is under way.
Several staff reportedly had to field questions about the possible sources of leaks to the media from investigators acting for Foresight Advisory Services, which is a firm offering specialised intelligence, counter-intelligence and other intelligence-related analytical services. The company was established last year.
A parliamentary staff member said that the current situation “is not very pleasant at all. There is now a growing climate of fear and suspicion that has made it very difficult to do your work without looking over your shoulder”.
Shaik said last night that he served as a non-executive director of Foresight Advisory Services and as such had nothing to do with the running of the company.
Asked if MPs had been interrogated by company members about their having possibly leaked information to the media, he said: “I’ve got no idea about that.”
Holtzman and Mokgatla have refused to comment about why they have been suspended and events at Parliament since their suspension.
Holtzman’s attorney, Sageer Pansari, said: “we had received no correspondence from Parliament by the close of business on the date our client’s suspension ended.”
He said that numerous attempts to seek clarification on the status of his client had gone unanswered.
Despite her seniority as head of the parliamentary protection force, notification that her suspension was being extended came simply in the form of “a letter from someone in human resources informing our client that she has been suspended for a further 30 days”.
Meanwhile, on September 1, the day after Holtzman’s original suspension expired, there was drama when she reported for duty as neither she nor her counsel had been told that Parliament intended extending her suspension.
Sources said that when parliamentary protection officers were gathered at the morning assembly, they had been warned that Holtzman might come to work.
“It was during parade on that morning that we were told that Zelda Holtzman will be coming and that we should be prepared for her, as she is not allowed in the building,” a source said.
It is understood that Holtzman went to the floor where her office is located and was warmly welcomed by several colleagues. While she was drinking coffee, two protection officers came to her, apparently informing her that they were under orders to escort her from the building.
It is understood that the pair left without removing her from the building, and that she later left of her own accord, after apparently refusing to be interviewed by investigators without her legal team being present.
Pansari said Holtzman’s legal representatives had written to Parliament asking for details about the investigating team as well as the questions that that investigators wanted to pose. He said he was concerned about his client’s rights.
“We have a view on the lawfulness, or the irregularity, of what has happened in respect of our client, but we believe an appropriate forum must pronounce on the lawfulness of the suspension,” Pansari said.
On whether the next step would be litigation through the courts, Pansari said this was Holtzman’s call.
“We will consider the matter and advise her, but ultimately it is up to her,” he added.
Detailed questions related to the matters said to underpin the suspensions of the parliamentary protection chiefs – the contracting of private intelligence services and internal parliamentary reports detailing allegedly irregular activities by Parliament’s secretary – were sent to Parliament on August 21 and a further set of detailed questions was sent on Thursday.
Our questions were answered on Friday afternoon with a terse one-line response: “Parliament does not discuss its internal operational and administrative processes through the media.” – Weekend Argus