Nkandla Watch

Never mind Nkandla, watch State Security Agency

David Mahlobo, Minister of State Security

The extent to which the South African State Security Agency (SASSA) is being used for party political purposes seems to be ignored by opposition parties while going all out for Nkandla’s low hanging fruit.

This is but one of the side effects of the decision by most opposition parties in parliament to take part in an evaluation process (including a site visit to the Nkandla residence of President Jacob Zuma) of a report by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.

The Nhleko report has no legal bearing on the responsibility of President Zuma to respond to the recommendation by the Public Protector (PP) that he should make a payment towards some of the upgrades to that residence.

That some of those costs were inflated is essentially a separate issue that should be dealt with separately and has nothing to do with the core principle involved in the PP’s report: President Zuma and his family benefited from the upgrades and he should pick up some portion of the costs involved.

The ANC’s strategy with now two ad hoc committees of parliament on the matter could not have been made clearer than was done by ANC MP Dorries Dlakude when she said after the site visit: “You cannot compare the president to ordinary citizens. Of course, he must be protected. We cannot expect the president to know everything that is happening.”

After the show with all its hype, political grandstanding and point scoring at Nkandla is over, the fact will remain that the responsibility of the decisions that should have been taken by parliament will be passed on to the already beleaguered judiciary.

The leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, stated it in so many words: “If the ANC in Parliament will not compel the president to heed her (the PP’s) findings, then we will take the matter to the courts.”

Slipping on other fronts

What has, however, in the meantime been allowed to slip off the public agenda is how instruments of state security, and SASSA in particular, are being misused by government for party political purposes. In particular, they are being used to discredit and pressurise government’s opponents and critics.

At last week’s Nkandla site visit there was, again, an ANC attempt to discredit the PP, Adv. Thuli Madonsela, when ANC MP Thandi Mahambehlala accused her of misleading the public with her report. Mahambehlala claimed to have been “traumatised by the fact that a person in such a high position (the PP) would mislead South Africans into thinking that President Jacob Zuma abused public funds”.

Everyone, however, despite some opposition objections at the ad hoc committee sitting, have forgotten that this is just a continuation of a much more sinister campaign dating back to at least February this year.

Late February Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, out of the blue, announced a SASSA investigation into allegations that the PP and some opposition and trade union leaders were agents of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The investigation was said to have been triggered by allegations on a blog, Africa Intelligence Leaks, which suggested 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 SASSA – the purpose being to create a basis for ‘naming and shaming’ some prominent South Africans …

Just a cursory investigation last week confirmed these suspicions. A revisit to the site (that had appeared on the net from nowhere at the time) revealed that all the ‘articles’ containing the allegations against Madonsela and Co had been loaded onto the site over only three days between 9 and 12 February of this year. Not a single new item has since then appeared on the site.

Nothing has also since then been heard about the SASSA investigation announced by Minister Mahlolo.

In March there was a report that Democratic Alliance (DA) MP David Maynier had a request to put a question to the minister on the matter turned down by the Deputy Speaker, Lechesa Tsenoli. In what seems to be a case of political attention deficit syndrome there has been no follow-up on the matter from the opposition.

Developments since

Since then, without much, if any, attention being paid to it by opposition parties, there have been a number of sinister developments on the state security front in South Africa, including:

  • South African “spy cables” were leaked to the Al Jazeera website and the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, among other things claiming that the South African authorities have been spying on the organisation Green Peace, and sharing information with foreign governments;
  • These cables also revealed allegations that Russia and South Africa were cooperating on a secret satellite surveillance programme, which SASSA codenamed Project Condor;
  • It was reported that the security cluster ministers had launched ‘informal probes’ into five NGOs, including the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), the organisation that approached the courts to prevent the government allowing Al-Bashir to leave;
  • Campaign group Right2Know released a report concluding there existed “strong evidence that [South African] state security structures are monitoring the work of at least some activists and civic organisations”;
  • Earlier this month businessman and constitutional rights activist, Hugh Glenister’s home in Johannesburg was raided without a warrant; and
  • Wikileaks has just claimed that it has discovered how South African authorities are seeking access to advanced electronic eavesdropping capacities or spyware which could put the right to privacy of ordinary South Africans in danger.

The Nkandla scandal, the costs surrounding it and the presidency of Mr Zuma will eventually fade into history, although it does not feel like it after almost a year and a half of intense exposure since the release of the PP report.

What is presently happening in the world of the ‘spooks’ and its impact on the future quality of democracy in South Africa will last for much longer. Frankly, that is much more important and, as we wrote previously: “Opposition parties would be failing the country dangerously … by concentrating too much on nothing but the here and now …”

by Garth Cilliers

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