By John Matisonn

At least four offices of the Democratic Alliance and three DA MPs' homes have been broken into in the past three weeks, and only computers and documents have been taken, while television sets and electrical appliances were left untouched.

The computer of the DA's executive director, Greg Krumbock, which contains the most complete data the party has, was switched on at 7.19am on Saturday May 29, and confidential files accessed, according to a forensic information technology expert who was called to the scene.

Krombock's office is in the same building as MPs' offices in the Marks Building of the parliamentary compound on Parliament Street in Cape Town. A new R33-million hi-tech security system was recently installed there.

DA offices in Kimberley, in Kloof outside Durban, and in the Eastern Cape have also been broken into. At least one MP, Donald Lee, had his house in the parliamentary village in Cape Town, Acacia Park, broken into. Lee found documents taken from drawers and strewn about the bed and floor, but nothing was missing.

MPs Dan Maluleke and Pauline Cupido have also had their homes broken into, and documents taken, but all valuables were untouched.

The police and the secretary of parliament have been notified of the cases, but they have not had time to report progress in the investigations.

Confirming these facts, James Selfe, chairperson of the DA's federal council, said: "It has now become a pattern, the significance of which is very difficult to ignore, in view of the fact that within two weeks we will be faced with legislation allowing for floor crossing by MPs, MPLs and town councillors."

The 15-day window during which public representatives can change parties is expected to start on about June 20.

The break-ins have been likened to the Watergate scandal in the United States, which was caused by a break-in by operatives of then president Richard Nixon at the party headquarters of the opposition Democratic Party, in a building in Washington DC called Watergate.

But Dr Jakkie Cilliers, the director of the Institute of Security Studies, reacted more cautiously. "It may or may not be a pattern," Cilliers said. He said an opposition party could be gathering information, but he doubted any officials were involved.

"I personally think the DA have dug themselves into such a deep hole, that you don't need to assist them.

"It could be pure coincidence. But I would not think state institutions are engaged."

Most of the break-ins involved forced entry, and the fact that they had taken place was obvious.

However, the break-in to Krumbock's office was discovered because when he came into his office on Saturday afternoon, his computer would not boot up, he said on Saturday.

He found that the plug had been switched off, for the first time in the three years he has worked there.

Experts were able to determine that his computer had been switched on at 7.19am on that day, and that his files were accessed.

His computer contains lists of the party's big donors, membership records and voting patterns.

He also confirmed that cleaners do not work there on Saturdays, and had not been there on that particular day.

Last year the laptop computer of DA strategist Ryan Coetzee was stolen, and the contents of embarrassing letters he had written to Tony Leon, the opposition party leader, was leaked to the media, in which he discussed strategies for containing New National Party (NNP) leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Those leaks had a significant effect in causing the break-up of the Democratic Alliance and the walkout by the NNP.

Donald Lee said the burglars had broken into his house in the parliamentary village, Acacia Park, while he was in his constituency in the Eastern Cape.

"I don't know the motive and I don't want to draw any conclusions," he said.

"They forced their way in through the kitchen window.

"Documents were scattered around the place, on the bed and the floor. But nothing was taken. The television set, microwave and so on were not taken.

"I called the police so they could see it. I replaced the window, but I didn't lay a charge because nothing was stolen."

The Durban DA office break-in took place at a shopping centre in Kloof.

Five computers were stolen, but the television set was not taken, and no other shops in the centre were burgled.