By Political Staff

Fresh allegations that state organs have been unleashed by both sides in the war between the ANC's two top leaders plunged the crisis into new depths this weekend.

The announcement this week of the suspension of three National Intelligence Agency (NIA) officials for spying on top ANC executive Saki Macozoma has been followed by claims made to The Sunday Independent that e-mails sent via the government communications system have been intercepted.

Some of these messages indicate the involvement of top civil servants in the succession war between President Thabo Mbeki and his axed deputy, Jacob Zuma.

Communications allegedly spied on include e-mails between senior state and ANC officials plotting to rid the ruling party of "stumbling blocks" in the succession fracas. It is alleged the communiqu�s were unlawfully intercepted by renegade NIA agents.

Among the organisations said to have been under such surveillance is the Scorpions, with claims that top NIA officials have files on their counterparts in the elite crime-busting organisation, which is prosecuting Zuma.

The spying revelations have raised fears that the leadership battle that has divided the ruling party has had the same effect on important organs of state, including the security branches. This is said to involve senior officials in a range of government institutions including the police, the NIA and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

A top ANC official expressed fears that senior officials in both camps were using their government positions to collect dirt on Mbeki and Zuma to advance the interests of one or other side in the political battle.

Claims of other instances of illicit spying include that of Fikile Mbalula, the ANC Youth League president and a staunch Zuma supporter, who says he, too, has been a victim.

At the centre of the furore stands Ronnie Kasrils, the intelligence minister, who this weekend warned that anyone who played politics with the country's security apparatus was playing with fire. He met top spies to warn them that the intelligence services are expected to be non-partisan.

The warning came after his suspension of Billy Masetlha, the NIA director-general, and two key NIA officials, Gibson Njenje and Bob Mhlanga, in connection with an illegal spying operation involving Macozoma, who has been touted as a possible replacement for Mbeki.

More heads are expected to roll, with the probe into the activities of the NIA being broadened by Zolile Ngcakani, the inspector-general of intelligence.

Soon after receiving support from Mbeki to suspend Masetlha, Kasrils held a meeting with the top NIA management to drive home the message that no abuses would be tolerated and that the agency owed its allegiance to the constitution alone.

At the end of another week in which Zuma seemed to twice breach the original September 9 "ceasefire" agreement by top ANC leaders to manage the political fallout of his corruption trial, it appears the two sides have failed to reach a final agreement.

Sankie Mahanyele, the deputy ANC secretary-general, said: "They are going to try as much as possible to come back to us within a month."

And it has emerged that the NIA has been involved in an operation to minimise the damage caused by the biggest political crisis South Africa has seen.

Ngcakani on Friday pointed out that NIA agents had been engaged in an authorised operation that branched out into the Macozoma operation, which had not been authorised. Neither he nor Kasrils would comment on the nature of the original operation. However, The Sunday Independent has been reliably informed it had to do with the political fallout between Mbeki and Zuma.

Kasrils issued a strong warning to intelligence agents who tried to make political gains through their intelligence work: "You are playing with fire ... that's political conspiracy with dangerous repercussions. This will drag the country down and back ," Kasrils said.

Lorna Daniels, NIA spokesperson, said she was not aware of any "formal complaint" by the NPA or Directorate of Special Operations (the Scorpions).

"The NIA must obtain judicial authorisation to allow for the interception of telephone and e-mail interceptions," she said. "Any allegations or complaints must be raised with the inspector-general for intelligence in formal writing."