A ZIMBABWEAN journalist-cum-political commentator used his position as an analyst for an NGO to gain access to senior South African government officials – then sold details of their discussions to American diplomats.
Double agent Sydney Masamvu was taken into the confidence of South African officials in intelligence and foreign affairs as they sought to formulate their policies on Zimbabwe.
Unbeknown to them, the former Daily News reporter was all the time working with the American embassies in Harare and Pretoria, channelling details of their discussions, according to a shock US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The cable, dated April 30, 2007, from the US embassy in Pretoria, shows how Masamvu has operated in South Africa as a possible double agent -- supplying intelligence to both the South African and the US governments.
The “confidential” cable, which lists Masamvu as a “close Embassy contact” whose name is followed by the instruction to “strictly protect”, details how he indulged in double dealing -- proffering intelligence to both the US and the SA government officials.
The cable is one of more than two dozen detailing Masamvu’s contacts with the Americans. Over two days between April 24-25, 2007, Masamvu discussed the Zimbabwean crisis on topics ranging from Zanu PF politics and MDC internal affairs to the national security services with South African Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad, Intelligence Minster Ronnie Kasrils, Head of National Intelligence Coordinating Committee, Barry Gilder, and Foreign Affairs Director General Ayanda Ntsaluba before briefing his pay-masters at the US embassy in Pretoria.
According to the cable, “a visibly exhausted Masamvu provided a read-out of these marathon meetings on April 26” to the Americans, suggesting that he was indeed on assignment.
Masamvu, who also met with the then ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlante – now Vice President -- missed an opportunity to meet with President Thabo Mbeki through Pahad’s facilitation only due to “scheduling complications”.
In one incident which confirms his double dealing, Masamvu accepted a request from Pahad to supply “a five-page paper by May 04 detailing his core recommendations for Zimbabwe policy”, only for Masamvu to supply the information to the US government with a further personal request on “what to emphasise in his paper”.
According to the cable, the US government received the information with glee, alerting its Harare embassy to prepare information and questions which Masamvu would then prepare “in his own words”.
So deeply-steeped into this double dealing was Masamvu that he not only easily met with whom he pleased, but he got senior SA government officials to take him seriously as an authority on Zimbabwe.
In his meetings with the South African officials, he was asked questions on “pressure points” on Mugabe and the MDC leadership. According to the cable, Pahad confirmed his disdain for the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his preference for secretary general Tendai Biti.
In one embarrassing incident for South African intelligence, both Kasrils and Gilder took down “copious notes asking a series of questions” as Masamvu analysed for them the “various alliances” within the military -- leaving Masamvu surprised “since his information was common knowledge in Zimbabwe”.
Masamvu, not famed for any excellence among his colleagues in the media and NGO community, is not done any service either by the US embassy’s Charge d'Affaires, Donald Teitelbaum, whose cable states that “it is unusual for South African government officials to spend so much time with an NGO analyst like Masamvu”.
Masamvu, a graduate of Harare Polytechnic’s Division of Mass Communication, started his career at the Financial Gazette where he did his internship, rising to become the political editor.
He was later to join The Daily News as an assistant editor, doing so after his former editor at the Financial Gazette, Francis Mdlongwa, joined the paper and took his team with him.
Earlier in his career, Masamvu had surprisingly won a US journalism award in 2001.
In 2003, Masamvu won a Chevening Scholarship to study for a Masters degree in International Journalism at Cardiff University in Wales, and shortly after got a job as an analyst for the International Crisis Group based in South Africa even before submitting his dissertation.
He currently works as a senior political analyst for the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA).