Governance Watch Opinion

South African democracy in mortal danger from within


Governance in South Africa under President Jacob Zuma is increasingly taking on a likeness to what it was under apartheid’s strongman PW Botha, with the state security apparatus running supreme.

The only thing that is really different, is that ‘regime change’ has replaced PW Botha’s ‘total onslaught’ as the central mantra of the regime.

Huge alarm bells should have gone off when, the week before last, it was reported that State Security Agency (SSA) agents were allegedly deployed in and around parliament to help ensure that members of the ANC parliamentary caucus toe the party line during the debate and vote of no-confidence in President Zuma.

The use of the SSA for domestic political purposes falls way outside its mandate and follows on the heels of the controversy in February 2015 around a ‘signal jamming’ device during the State of the Nation debate.

More than a year ago The Sunday Times reported: “Parliament has launched an aggressive onslaught against its own staff in an attempt to root out spies and whistle-blowers.

“The outrageous campaign – involving the State Security Agency and initiated by parliament's secretary, Gengezi Mgidlana – is the latest in a string of attempts to clamp down on officials.”

Overreach of ‘securocrats’

In an insightful article published on the website GroundUp last week, Murray Hunter of the NGO Right2Know under the heading “South Africa: Let’s Resist the Securocrats” warn: “ State security apparatus is overreaching – dangerously.” 

He highlights how over the past two years, since David Mahlobo has been appointed Minister of State Security by President Zuma, a pattern has developed to label political dissenters of the government as “fronts” of “regime change”. Often civil society organisations and even official watchdog functionaries like the Public Protector (PP) were accused of being fronts for institutions like the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), bent on regime change in the country.

There have also been a number of “leaks” of “reports” on phantom websites implicating such organisations and individuals of complicity with “dark forces” for regime change.

Also read: When state security goes funny on “funny names

At one stage Minister Mahlobo threatened to “de-register” organisations that pursue (unnamed) activities that he believes should not be tolerated.

A pattern developed of the state security apparatus becoming involved in internal political activities.

In July last year we warned in an article: “The extent to which the South African State Security Agency (SSA) is being used for party political purposes seems to be ignored by opposition parties while going all out for Nkandla’s low hanging fruit.”

In February 2015, in the wake of the PP’s report on “security upgrades” to President Zuma’s Nkandla residence, Minister Mahlobo out of the blue, announced an SSA investigation into allegations on the phantom blog, Africa Intelligence Leaks, that Madonsela, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, former Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the more militant trade union AMCU, were CIA agents.

At the time we reported that the website that purportedly gave rise to the ‘investigation’ had all the fingerprints of a so-called false flag operation from within the SSA – the purpose being to create a basis for ‘naming and shaming’ some prominent South Africans.

But the interference in domestic political developments might be going deeper than just smear tactics.

In April this year there were reports of alleged SSA involvement in the creation of a new trade union that was apparently intended to lure mine workers, particularly in the platinum industry, away from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

In June the Daily Maverick wrote: “Reports and evidence that the country’s State Security Agency and its Special Operations Unit are implicated in a number of covert actions including placing undercover agents in Sars, Lonmin’s management structures at the time of the Marikana Massacre as well as orchestrating the establishment of a rival union in the volatile Platinum Belt, paint a disturbing picture of a shadowy network of spies who have infiltrated and are influencing various levels of South African society. Most of those who have been flushed into the open, unsurprisingly, orbit one man, President Jacob Zuma. Beware, the wall near you may well have eyes.”

In September this year we also reported that the then appointment of Arthur Fraser as the new head of SSA “at a time when President Jacob Zuma is under increasing pressure, has been met with a healthy dose of scepticism.”

He allegedly leaked the so-called ‘spy tapes’ to Mr Zuma’s legal team, which cleared the way for him to dodge corruption charges and replace then President Thabo Mbeki as leader of the ANC and president of the country.

Now, with President Zuma under renewed pressure due to another PP report, this time on the subject of state capture, this pattern seems to be returning.

Who watches over the watchman?

During the final days of the Botha government, before F.W. de Klerk took over as leader of the National Party and president of the country, a parliamentary colleague and close friend (himself a member of the then government) often formulated his concerns about the role of securocrats (the term coined during that time) by posing the question: “Wie waak oor Wagter?” (Who watches over the watchman?)

As we reported last week, in the late 1980s De Klerk addressed the problem by forcing some key security personnel, including 23 Members of the Defence Force, to retire and suspending some.

Clearly, President Zuma is no De Klerk, but rather increasingly appears to be a re-incarnation of PW Botha.

Inspector General

Under the post-1994 negotiated transition to a new constitution, this problem was at least in part addressed by the creation of the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence (OIGI).

In the meantime, however, the country has now been without an effective OIGI for almost two years after opposition parties and NGOs like R2K rejected the ANC’s candidate for the position – which would have been a ‘cadre deployment’ of an ex-ANC member of parliament and chairman of parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence.

A two-thirds approval in the National Assembly is needed for the appointment under Section 210(b) of the Constitution.

The position has been vacant since the end of March 2015 when the previous intelligence inspector-general Faith Radebe’s term of office expired and she was not asked to stay on until her successor was in place.

The OIGI’s function under the constitution is to, in terms of the Intelligence Services Oversight Act (Act 40 of 1994), carry out civilian oversight of the Intelligence Services.

As Hunter rightfully in his GroundUp-article concludes about Minister Mahlobo: “He should retire from the levers of the surveillance machine. But whether he stays or goes – the spread of ‘security-statism’ must be resisted. Citizens must bring the securocrats under control.”

 Also read: A Chinese massage parlour and a ‘jammed’ memory

by Piet Coetzer

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