Sygnia founder Magda Wierzycka opens up about spying scandal

Sygnia founder and former CEO, Magda Wierzycka said she feared for her life and had to hire bodyguards for her family during a time when she was illegally spied on.

The illegal spying activity, the City Press reported, was initiated by former Intelligence Minister David Mahlobo. The Hawks are now closing in on Mahlobo.

A state security operative said they monitored more than three dozen high-profile critics of former President Jacob Zuma using high-tech equipment provided by “the Russians”.

Some of the people who were monitored included chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, and former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

They were also spying on Sygnia founder Magda Wierzycka, finance minister Tito Mboweni, and journalism professor Anton Harber.

Harber recently said he is in a “state of disbelief” after finding out about the spying activity, which impacted him and his family.

“They [my children] started to question what of their personal life is now known to other people and how far did it go,” he said. “It really infringes on your sense of security, privacy, and dignity.”

Anton Harber
Anton Harber

Wierzycka has also spoken out about the spying activity and the harassment she experienced during this time.

She is a vociferous critic of corruption in South Africa. This included speaking out against Zuma and large multinational companies like McKinsey which paid bribes.

She became a target for Zuma and other people implicated in corruption, which included illegal spying on her.

She knew she was being followed and that her phone was tapped because of the poor execution by security agents.

She did not, however, know that they were triangulating her movements using her mobile phone data.

“I was followed, and, on many occasions, you could see them following us,” Wierzycka told Biznews.

She described it as “very stressful times” and she had to get bodyguards for herself and her children. “Everywhere I went, I went with bodyguards,” she said.

Magda Wierzycka
Magda Wierzycka

There were many occasions where the harassment from the agents caused fear and embarrassment for Wierzycka and her family.

“I travel internationally a lot. At customs at Cape Town Airport, there were two ladies who were clearly not customs – they were state security – and they were there to harass me,” she said.

“Every single time they would know that I was at Cape Town Airport and I would be stopped. They obviously had orders to keep me for an hour because they kept looking at their watches and they would take everything out of my suitcase.”

“They made it a point to hold up my underwear and take everything out of my suitcase. These orders were only rescinded recently.”

She also described another incident where her bodyguards became aware that they were followed on their way from Cape Town Airport to Cape Town central.

“We were driving back to Sygnia’s offices. To determine whether we were being followed, they started driving incredibly quickly, zigzagging between cars,” Wierzycka said.

“There was a car that followed us, which also began zigzagging between the other vehicles. I was sitting in the back a little bit petrified.”

Her strategy to protect herself and her family, apart from getting bodyguards, was to become high-profile.

“I ramped up my public profile because it is much more difficult to kill someone who has a name than it is to kill a nobody,” she said.

Now read: What it’s like to be spied on by the Intelligence Minister

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Sygnia founder Magda Wierzycka opens up about spying scandal