Intelligence Report

Despite Paris SA’s major threats remain domestic – Report #2


Last week’s terror attacks in Paris have changed the global security profile dramatically, but South Africa’s biggest threats remain on the domestic front.

 In last week’s report we promised to take a look through a wide-angle lens at domestic threats to the stability of the security, political and socio-economic environment in South Africa. Although it would be unwise not to be alert to possible impacts on the SA situation post-Paris, the domestic threats remain the most acute. Some elements/factors touched on in this report are highlighted in more detail in supporting articles elsewhere.

 Background analysis

Despite what happened in Paris the week before last, or closer to home, at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013, South Africa is still considered not an attractive target for such attacks.

This is not to say it is immune to any future terror attacks, especially of the rogue variety aimed at ‘symbols’ associated with targeted nations.

In 1998 a bomb detonated with fatal results at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town and there was evidence of terror plans by Islamic militants during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The US embassy in Pretoria went into shut-down twice in recent years, based on officially described “credible information” of possible terror attacks on it.

Some analysts are, however, of the opinion that South Africa unwittingly offers certain advantages to militant groups as an expedient source for travel documents and convenient temporary residence for their operatives, as illustrated by the ‘White Widow’ and Henry Okah.

‘White Widow’, Samantha Lewthwaite, allegedly involved in the Kenya shopping mall incident, did reside here and carried a fraudulently acquired South African passport.

Henry Okah, while residing in South Africa (where he is currently serving a 24 year jail sentence) was involved in terror attacks in Nigeria as leader of a militant organisation known by its acronym MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta).

It is also argued that South Africa’s advanced banking system is very helpful in laundering and transferring money by sympathetic South African citizens on behalf of militant organisations.

Militant and radical groups stand to forfeit these ‘advantages’ should terror attacks be carried out on South African soil.

There are some risks of South Africa being sucked into the ‘Global War on Terror’ due to the present global hype and increased activity around the subject.

However, the more immediate threats to political and socio-economic order and stability in the country are rather of domestic origin and predominantly socio-economically rooted.

Socio-economic climate

Judged on analysis of online readership statistics there is a general a ‘bad news expectation’, among South Africans – underpinned by widespread discontent/disillusionment with people’s lived reality on many fronts.

Comments on articles also suggest that a large percentage of South Africans have lost faith in government and ‘the system’ to ‘deliver’ in terms of expectations and past promises.

A confluence of a wide range of negative factors, events and trends – from global economic troubles to natural disasters – leading to hardships and disruptions of people’s lives and uncertainties, gave momentum to the trend towards discontent/disillusionment.

There is a general perception that government has been caught off-guard and was totally unprepared to deal with crisis situations on many fronts despite timely warnings in most instances. It has developed to a stage where this discontent/disillusionment has become a serious threat to the stability of the state.

As far back as February 2013 The Intelligence Bulletin wrote: “The incidence of protests in South Africa continues to grow. In line with global trends it is creating a dangerous revolutionary climate.”

Since the transition to democracy in the country in 1994 the South African community has become a much more diversified and complex integrated construct of competing interests and aspirations. Processes like rapid urbanisation, the changing profile of the middle class and increased access to education and centres of power brought on much keener competition for opportunities linked to upward mobility.

However, lack of economic growth, lack of government/state capacity to deal with increased pressures on infrastructure and basic services and the lack of sufficient employment opportunities have caused the ‘system’ to fall behind the expectation curve of the majority of the population.

The post-1994 dispensation has also, for the first time, exposed the broad population and key leadership cadres to popular elective processes and its public election campaigns. In the process many leaders fell into the trap of easily made promises and announcements of grand policy plans.

A practical reality has now developed of resource limitations across the board, from material/financial to educational/skills, a large implementation/result deficit on political/policy promises and plans – and the expectations that come with it.

Existing compacts fracturing

Due to these realities, the social, party political and trans-sectoral compacts of the early 1990s, which made the peaceful transition to democracy possible, have come under tremendous pressure.

In fact, the party political and trans-sectoral compact, popularly known as the ANC Alliance, is in the process of coming apart as predicted as far back as 2012.

From the word go, the alliance between the ANC as a governing political party and organised labour, as represented by COSATU, was untenable and fraught with conflicts of interests.

The ANC has already lost the support of some components or organised labour due to internal tensions in COSATU. A formal parting of the ways between the ANC and COSATU took a marked step forward last week when the labour federation threatened to withdraw its support for the ANC in next year’s local government elections.

On the party political front there was also last week clear signals of strain in the alliance between the ANC and the South African Communist Party, which has enjoyed influence well above what is justified by their public support. The KwaZulu-Natal branch of the SACP called on the party’s national executive to “divorce the ANC”.

A statement after the SACP in the KZN provincial council meeting reported mounting calls from members to break off the fractious alliance with the ANC because there was a growing anti-communist sentiment in the ruling party.

It also “expressed concerns and displeasure that targeted leaders of the SACP are subjected to state surveillance reminiscent of the apartheid regime”, and claimed a growing practice “to use state resources in fighting factional battles”.

Then there are also increasingly voices calling into question the broader social compact reached in the negotiations of the early 1990, underpinning the country’s constitution.

This is best illustrated by a Phillip Dexter article in October this year on Politicsweb, writing about the student protests: “…not only #fees must fall, the system must fall. The negotiated compromises and the consensus of 1994 have run their course. They allowed us to establish our democracy and strengthen the institutions of government and to transform some of them partially. But the jury is out. We need deeper, radical, more thoroughgoing transformation that ensures that we address the challenges we face as a society.”

New transition has started

It is clear that a new transition to a much more nuanced version of democracy has started to take shape in South Africa.

The constitution of the country as it stands seems well equipped to facilitate such a transition, but for now the country and some state institutions, including the intelligence community, the South African Police Service (SAPS), the judiciary and others face difficult challenges.

At the same time some real and serious threats to internal stability are developing and are in need of careful management of the transition and of bold initiatives to help create a new ‘South African dream’.

                                                                                                                                                                 by Intelligence Bulletin Team

Also read: SA intelligence community in political conundrum

                    South Africa needs a 'Mondi moment'

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