DOES anyone remember the Browse Mole report? It is extraordinary how time moves on and the subjects that seemed so keen just a few years ago are now distant memories. The Browse Mole report was compiled by Scorpions investigator Ivor Powell and leaked to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in May 2007. It suggested that a group of African National Congress heavyweights were discussing a way of ousting then president Thabo Mbeki. Irony upon irony, it was used by Cosatu in support of ousting Mbeki, who was made to look paranoid for having anything to do with the report. Clearly he was not paranoid enough.
The report was far-fetched and partly inaccurate. It was dismissed by the government as the work of former apartheid agents who were "information peddlers" trying to stoke conflict. The more sensational claim, that the Angolan and Libyan governments funded Mbeki’s rival, Jacob Zuma, has never been proved — or disproved.
The Browse Mole fiasco came to mind this month because of another episode, which has the fingerprints of the same old apartheid undercover duplicity. The document, which has been bouncing around the web, was written by Arthur MacKay, a claimed analyst of global economic and political issues. It is largely speculative bumf: its main thesis is that SA is going to hell in a hand basket and the Marikana massacre was somehow contrived to protect mining bosses, particularly Lonmin’s black economic empowerment (BEE) partner, Shanduka. The claim is ridiculous.
But I have learned in journalism that information has no owner. It weaves its own way. The strangest pieces of illicit information can include half-formed bits that are shockingly true. As a journalist, this puts you in an odd spot. You don’t want to help peddle misinformation, yet you don’t want to miss any relevant information either. Intelligence agencies know this and exploit it in order to peddle misinformation. The only resolution is the truth and that is sometimes not palatable for the subject — another positive spin-off of disinformation campaigns.
Anyway, like some other news organisations, I have tried to find out if there is any truth to the claims in the document and whether MacKay exists. Web searches turned up nothing and it appears the article has now been removed. The specific claims that are not true are these: The article claims Cyril Ramaphosa’s company (Shanduka Resources) provides all of Lonmin’s welfare and training services "and for this he may have been paid at least $50m in 2011 alone", and that companies linked to Ramaphosa were also paid "advance dividends" by Lonmin of $20m in the past two years. There is no such thing as "advance dividends" and he wasn’t paid any. The biggest whopper is that it claims Lonmin "seems to have paid Ramaphosa and his related companies well over $400m since he bought into the company".
In fact, the truth is the opposite, according to Shanduka. Far from luxuriating in millions made on the backs of poor miners, Shanduka has lost millions by investing in the platinum sector. In 2010, the Shanduka Group put an unencumbered R300m into Incwala Resources, the BEE vehicle that owns 18% of Lonplats (not actually Lonmin). It has also taken out a vendor-financed loan, at ordinary interest rates, for another R2.5bn for the stake. By the way, one of the other shareholders in Incwala is the Industrial Development Corporation, which has a larger stake than Shanduka Resources. Interestingly, Lonmin itself has a large stake in Incwala and there is a very small community share.
Shanduka does not supply the company with labour contract services, as was claimed. But, in the midst of all this nonsense, there is one rather embarrassing fact, which was confirmed by Shanduka: it is paid R250,000 a month for giving Lonplats "general empowerment advice". Ouch.
Who knows whether this report is aimed at undermining Ramaphosa’s bid for the presidency or his opposition to Zuma. I think it might be. But, particularly these days, the information in it will make up its own mind where it will go and what it will do. All we can do is be on guard.
• Cohen is contributing editor.