President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

The high level surveillance of journalists’ private lives shows President Jacob Zuma is becoming like Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is according to leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, who was speaking on 702 radio about "exposés" into journalist’s behaviour on the website‚ wmcleaks.com ("white minority capital" leaks).

The anonymously run website has targeted journalists who have criticised the Guptas or their relationship with Zuma. Maimane said surveillance may even extend to politicians and that it was the work of a "dictator".

The website "revealed" photos of Business Day’s editor-in-chief, Peter Bruce, visiting a woman in Parkhurst last year‚ who they claimed was his mistress. It also had pictures of him walking in the park with his wife and sitting at a restaurant with friends. The website suggested he had visited the woman regularly‚ which implied the surveillance took place over weeks.

Gupta links exposed by investigative agencies amaBhungane and Daily Maverick investigative unit Scorpio, show that the Guptas were very unhappy with a 2015 column by Bruce‚ which criticised their relationship with Zuma’s son, Duduzane.

The Guptas wrote tweets critical of Bruce for their fake twitter accounts to use.

Journalists’ analysis of documents posted on the wmcleaks site show that the first documents on the site accessed by Eyewitness News (EWN) journalist Barry Bateman were strikingly similar in format to ones created by State Security intelligence officers‚ insiders in the agency confirmed.

The documents included the ID number and the phone number of a woman Bruce had visited. After Bateman asked the Department of State Security if state resources were being used to spy on journalists‚ a document containing this information was removed from the site.

A different pdf document with photos of Bruce visiting a women was also posted on the site. A Daily Maverick investigation revealed the pdf document was created by a user called Saurabh‚ who was in India in 2016 when the document was made.

A Saurabh Aggarwal worked for Gupta-owned Sahara computer company, in IT, from 2008 to the end of 2010. He then worked at the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper from 2011 until 2014. He now works in India. This indicated the Guptas were involved in the alleged surveillance of journalists and the site wmcleaks.com. Aggarwal also lived at the Gupta compound in Saxonwold‚ according to EWN, and was described as a relative.

The document created by Saurabh has now been removed from the website.

Following the exposé linking the Guptas to the story on Bruce‚ he told Daily Maverick he intended suing them for crimen injuria. According to EWN‚ an account linked to the Guptas tweeted a threat to Bruce a few months ago telling him he had been under surveillance.

Fake twitter users commented on the wmcleaks story and tweeted about it. They have odd South African names‚ despite similarities to common names‚ and include Banele Oosthuizen‚ Dova Groenewald and Dipalesa Jones.

Maimane said of the surveillance: "The biggest concern is the fact that we are now living in SA where Jacob Zuma is literally copying everything that Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing. These are trends of a dictator."

"This [dictatorship] doesn’t begin just simply overnight and suddenly you live in a dictatorship. You go through someone who is pathological, somebody who effectively will do whatever it takes with PR agencies, that has become clear — what Barry is citing, there [is] already work against journalists. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were works against other politicians and opposition leaders."

"This is a script that has been written by many dictators all over the world."

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