Security Watch

State Security: Cabinet shuffle a chance missed?

David Mahlobo
David Mahlobo.jpg

Nine years of Zuma-administration has left the ministry of State Security in shambles, but will the new minister be up to the challenge?

Under Jacob Zuma’s administration many cogs in the South African state machine broke down. Some, we now know, deliberately so while others broke down because of incompetence and neglect.

President Cyril Ramaphosa must repair and/or replace the broken parts without delay if he wants to deliver on his promises and the on the vision he has for South Africa going forward.

One of the cogs that always needs to be in good working order to help make the rest of the state machine run smoothly is the State Security Agency (SSA).

Bad past

Under Zuma the SSA’s performance at all levels dropped to such an extent that only a major, if not total overhaul is needed to re-condition the Agency to carry out its legally required mandate.

If not done South Africa might be better off without an intelligence organization. A continuation of SSA in its current format under its current management only spells disaster.

Daily Maverick has published a couple of thoughtful articles, complimented by observations of intelligence experts, building irrefutable and uncontestable arguments why a major overhaul of SSA is imperative.   

There is ample evidence in full detail in Jacques Paauw’s bestseller, The President’s Keepers, and in past articles published in The Intelligence Bulletin how SSA was deliberately used to discredit opponents and critics of Zuma and his cronies. Sometimes done in such an amateurish and unprofessional manner that it made the agency the laughing stock and an embarrassment for all those highly qualified and professional intelligence officers trying their best to make a difference, and South Africa a better and safer place for all its people.

 Some of the persons on the receiving end of dirty tricks operations included the former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader, Julius Malema, former Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the trade union AMC, all accused of being CIA agents.

There is even evidence that Cyril Ramaphosa himself was a victim of dirty tricks.   

It is common knowledge that while President Jacob Zuma’s choices of State Security Ministers and SSA Director–Generals were not always based on their capability and honesty, but rather their willingness to unscrupulously serve his own personal agenda and, that of his accomplices.

One commentator aptly wrote: “More than enough evidence has come to light that the spy agencies became a praetorian guard of sorts for Zuma and his corrupt friends”. No one better than the previous Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, illustrated this sad but true situation when he not so long ago, at an ANC policy conference, announced that: ”The “Gupta family does not pose a threat to the country's sovereignty.”

Some high-ranking security service individuals also exploited their positions to line their own pockets and those of friends and family and ran illegal and unapproved covert operations, squandering millions of taxpayer money in the process. Their modus operandi is well documented in Paauw’s book.

In a series of articles in Daily Maverick, Jane Duncan also highlighted areas were SSA has been transgressing and acted above and outside the law.

One of the areas Duncan focused on is the seemingly unregulated interception of communication which remains a grey area, and highly controversial globally.

The Intelligence Bulletin reported, for example, how the Edward Snowden leaks revealed that the intelligence community in the United States also transgressed and even eves dropped during the Obama presidency on the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

In recent years, particularly as the controversy around the Zuma administration and state capture grew, and suspicion, factionalism and distrust escalated, SSA stepped up the interception of communication and surveillance of individuals and organisations almost at will, often bypassing or ignoring existing laws and procedures mainly because of loopholes and weaknesses in the legislation. 

This is a weakness that requires urgent mending.

Important appointment

It is against this backdrop that it was imperative that President Ramaphosa appoint a strong and experienced person as Minister of State Security. What is required is a person able to lead by example, and capable of directing and managing the critical restructuring and rebuilding of a shattered and compromised intelligence organization, while at the same time restoring morale in the agency and regain the public’s broken trust and respect.

Under the Zuma presidency the biggest intelligence failure of SSA by far has been the inability to provide strategic intelligence at all levels, including predicting and preventing state capture.

It is perhaps safe to say that under Ministers Mahlobo, and short-serving Bongani Bongo, the SSA was deliberately steered away from reporting on state capture and corruption. How else can Bongo’s attempt at bribing an official in an attempt to try and derail a Parliamentary inquiry into state capture be explained?  

With his SONA address as reference it was expected that President Ramaphosa would select a dependable and competent person to serve in the important post of State Security Minister in contrast to the string of mediocre and compromised ministers that served under Zuma.

This appointment, like the other cabinet appointments, would be a good indication as to his sincerity in eradicating the wrongs of the Zuma era and what to expect from his administration.

It is early days, but the dominant belief is that President Ramaphosa has erred by appointing an unknown person with no intelligence background, the current deputy minister for the public service and administration, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, as new Minister of State Security. She is facing a daunting task to restructure a dysfunctional ministry at a challenging time. She can expect fierce resistance from within the security establishment if it's self-serving interests are challenged.

While we shall never know President Ramaphosa’s reasons for appointing Letsatsi-Duba, it was hopefully for all the right reasons.    

by Garth Clliers

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