Something very odd is happening. First the Helen Suzman Foundation suffered a well-organised break in that reminded one of the raids during the apartheid era.

Then another robbery took place on the flat of an anti-apartheid activist. And in both only computers were stolen.

This is what Business Day reported about the Foundation theft:

“Two well-dressed men had arrived at the premises, and after establishing it was the foundation, had drawn a weapon and restrained a guard…A woman with a notebook then directed the men regarding which computers and which printer were to be taken, before leaving with three other individual in a white van, he said”.

A raid has also taken place on the flat of the late Phyllis Naidoo, staunch anti-apartheid activist. Again only a computer hard drive was stolen. Coincidence? Perhaps.

But there is a long history of such burglaries – see update at end – and I am sure the list I have found is only the tip of the iceberg.

Several human rights organisations have declared that they will not be intimidated.

“The timing is more than coincidental and the people knew precisely where they were going and how to get in. They had a key and, more sinister than that, took only computers that dealt with litigious matters.”

Judge Johan Kriegler, Chairman of Freedom Under Law

The Helen Suzman Foundation

“This was no ordinary robbery,” said Francis Antonie, director of the Foundation.

“The thieves knew exactly what they were after. We obviously do not know who they were, but we have our deep suspicions.

“After forcing the guard to open the gate, the invaders drove their vehicle into the basement of the building, where they knew there was a lift to the second floor. Other businesses in the building were left alone. Nothing else of value besides the computers was taken.”

Antonie said the HSF was one of several civic organisations which have embarked on litigation against the Government in an attempt to preserve and protect civil rights and freedoms under the constitution.

“Most recently, the HSF and the legal organisation, Freedom under Law, sought to interdict the head of the Hawks, Major General Berning Ntlemeza, from exercising his powers, pending a review of the processes leading to his appointment,” said Antonie.

General Ntlemeza was appointed by President Jacob Zuma to the top job in the Hawks, the country’s leading corruption and crime fighting unit, notwithstanding previously damning judicial findings impugning his integrity, honesty and fitness.

“This action against a public-interest NGO is an example of the illegality running riot in our country. We deplore it. The HSF wants nothing more than a country which protects its citizens’ rights through the due process of law,” said Antonie.

“The HSF calls on all civil society organisations, the business community as well as the public at large to stand together and speak out loudly in defence of the ever-growing threat to the hard-won freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.”

Police were not immediately available for comment.

Phyllis Naidoo

A friend sent me this message: “Have you heard that Phyllis Naidoo’s flat has been raided (as well as the H Suzman Foundation) the burglars stealing nothing other than the hard drive of her computer.”

Phyllis died in 2013 – but who was she?

This is what the government said when she was awarded the Luthuli medal for outstanding contributions in the fight against apartheid.

“Profile of Phyllis Naidoo

Phyllis Naidoo was born in Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal in 1928 and from an early age was active in the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM).

As a student, and later a teacher at Natal University (Non-European section), she organised a Human Rights Committee which helped to raise funds for the 1956 Treason Trialists and their families.

Naidoo was a member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) and with her husband, MD Naidoo and Govan Mbeki, did underground support work for ANC cadres. After being placed under a banning order and house arrest in March 1966, she began to study law and qualified as a lawyer in 1973.

She set up her legal practice when her banning order was lifted in 1976. She made a point of employing ex-Robben Island prisoners in her practice – including at one stage Jacob Zuma, the current Deputy President.

On 23 July 1977, Naidoo was forced to flee to Lesotho, where she continued to work for the ANC. She assisted members of the SACPand ANC to escape from South Africa, and provided support for them as well as to the scores of youth skipping the borders in the aftermath of the Soweto student uprisings.

In 1983 she fled Lesotho and settled in Zimbabwe.”

So what is going on?

There is one link: Jacob Zuma. The Helen Suzman Foundation was taking on the Hawks – threatening Zuma’s important ally, Major General Berning Ntlemeza.

And Naidoo? What background information was there about Zuma from her early years in the struggle on her computer?

One can only speculate. But it is worrying.

Going back years

Anyone thinking this is new should think again.

As the Star reported in 2012: “Attorneys, journalists and researchers who are working on sensitive political cases are increasingly experiencing burglaries and having their documents removed.”

  •  Raymondt Dicks was at home with his son and friend in Blue Hills, Midrand, when six armed men stormed into the house. Dicks was legal adviser to the group NewERA (New Economic Rights Alliance), which has launched a court case against the four major local banks and the SA Reserve Bank that the group says will expose the banks’ illegal activities.
  • Hennie Van Vuuren, a former director of the Institute for Security Studies, who is now working at the Open Society Foundation for SA personally experienced two strange burglaries. He was working on a manuscript dealing with the arms deal at the time of the thefts.
  • In April 2012 a member of the board of inquiry into the conduct of then police commissioner General Bheki Cele was robbed by men using R-5 assault rifles – the same rifle type as that stolen from a safe at Air Force Base Waterkloof. Only laptops and keys were stolen.
  • In May 2012 suspended prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach was shot at on the N14 highway. She also reported that two BMW motorcycles had tried to force her off the road. Breytenbach was working on fraud charges against former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
  • Noseweek editor Martin Welz said the magazine office was broken into in 2012 and fairly computers were taken, but he isn’t sure if it was just general crime or an attempt to find information on stories they are working on.
  • On 26 September 2013 the NUMSA union complained that its head office in Newtown,  Johannesburg was robbed and ‘highly sensitive’ IT equipment belonging to the union was stolen.

This was the situation then. Since then other strange break-ins have come to light. And prosecutions? Well, seldom.