Spies, allegedly working for a well-known private investigator, were purportedly paid to infiltrate a Palestine support group running a campaign to have Israeli goods removed from a major retailer’s shelves.
Members of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) South Africa this week claimed one of the alleged spies confessed she and two others in the campaign had worked undercover, apparently on behalf of Woolworths. The company has denied this.
Weekend Argus obtained a voice recording of a conversation between the alleged spy, a former police officer, and BDS. It reveals the spy joined BDS as a “volunteer” and was told to gather personal information about activists and their campaign plans.
BDS said spies were hired by Woolworths but the company denied this. “These allegations are simply untrue,” Woolworths said in a statement. In the voice recording, the alleged spy can be heard saying she had worked for the police but had left to work with a private investigator to earn more money. She mentions in the recording the name of a well-known private investigator from Joburg who she claims hired her for the Woolworths job.
“Woolworths hired him. It was somebody at the top,” she said.
Weekend Argus contacted the private investigator and he denied any involvement in the matter.
BDS also claimed a consultancy firm that Woolworths has employed to assist with its public image was possibly involved, but the firm denied this.
Throughout the recording, the alleged spy is nervous about disclosing her identity. “If my name is exposed it will have a ripple effect,” she said. “I signed a confidentiality (agreement) and they said they could take me to court.”
The person worked with BDS in Joburg, but also travelled to Cape Town where she claims her investigations continued.
According to her, another spy was also sent to infiltrate BDS, while the private investigator also gathered information.
She used various email addresses to communicate with BDS and the private investigator, she said. She was paid in cash because the private investigator “didn’t want it (payments) traced”.
Car registration numbers, social media updates, home addresses and campaign plans were among some of the details that the spy had allegedly collected.
“I had to get information about your organisation to the people you were fighting. Like a spy,” she said.
Her work was apparently carried out when BDS was hosting Palestinian activist Leila Khaled on a public speaking tour in South Africa.
By the time she said she told BDS about her work, it was drawing up plans to protest against American singer Pharrel Williams’s concerts in support of Woolworths earlier this year.
BDS spokeswoman Kwara Kekana said: “After volunteering, she came to our office in tears. She said she felt so bad because she was employed to spy on BDS to brief a private investigator on the campaign.”
Kekana said BDS planned to report the matter to the authorities. Somebody was paid to come into our office, steal information and leak it to Woolworths as a means to undermine our campaign.”
Woolworths said its business principles were not guided by political motives, but trade needs. WEEKEND ARGUS (Yazeed Kamaldien)