Where is South Africa’s secret spy satellite?


Government has drawn a veil of secrecy over the possible development and existence of a secret spy satellite costing more than a billion Rand.

The Department of Defence reportedly entered into a contract with Russian company, NPO Mashinostroyenia, for the development of a Kondor-E reconnaissance satellite in 2006.

The project was revealed by the South African Sunday Times at the weekend and drew immediate reaction from David Maynier, shadow defence and military veterans minister, who has been investigating the saga of the spy satellite.
“Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula needs to come clean about the seemingly bungled development of the radar imaging reconnaissance satellite.”

The project was first referred to as project Flute and later renamed Project Consolidated Flute.
“We do not have all the facts about the satellite and its development under the auspices of Defence Intelligence but the main driver of the project is believed to have been now retired Lieutenant General ‘Mojo’ Motau, at that time Chief of Defence Intelligence.
“The contract to develop the Kondor-E was frozen for a period, sometime before 2008 by the Department of Defence, causing NPO Mashinostroyenia to threaten legal action. This apparently also delayed the launch of SumbandilaSat, produced by South Africa.
“Project Flute is believed to have been frozen, in part, because a flaw was discovered in the contract, something Defence Intelligence failed to recognise,” he said adding the flaw was Defence Intelligence would be “entirely dependent” on the Russian company.
“Images would have to be requested from them at additional cost and with a significant time delay. Defence Intelligence would have no control over the satellite or be allowed to operate it from South Africa.”

Scrutiny of Department of Defence budgets between 2006/07 and 2013/14 shows Defence Intelligence will have channelled R2.87 billion through the secret Special Defence Account, some of which is going to “development of a strategic information collection capability”.

According to Maynier the Kondor-E radar imaging satellite could be used by Defence Intelligence for intelligence gathering and battlefield surveillance. It can produce images 24/7 and in overcast weather conditions.

Motau is currently chairman of Armscor, having taken the Defence Ministry to court in pursuit of his reinstatement after he was dismissed by Mapisa-Nqakula last year. This was the second time he had challenged a Defence Minister and come out the winner, retaining his appointment as the head of the acquisition agency.

Cape Town daily Die Burger reported Department of State Security spokesman Brian Dube “had no comment on the matter” while Department of Defence head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini said the satellite project was “classified”.
“In the end we need to know how it is [that] Defence Intelligence entered into a contract to finance a Russian company to develop a radar imaging reconnaissance satellite at a cost of over R1 billion, over which they would have no control and which has probably never been launched,” Maynier said.