Security Watch: Opinion

South Africa’s champion for blame-shifter

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Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, once again attempts to blame all the country’s woes on a strategy by “foreign forces and intelligence services” to undermine SA’s national security and weaken the state.

However, his motivation remained unconvincing when he again kicked open a hornet’s nest at a media briefing of the inter-ministerial Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) – announcing that the South African Government (SAG) is considering regulating the internet and social media.

This is, as we reported last week, real Orwellian-type stuff, soliciting almost immediate an overwhelming negative public response – trending under the hashtag #HandsOffSocialMedia. After all, social media has become an integral part modern every-day life.

Miracle

At the same briefing he performed a miracle in resuscitating a dead horse named “regime change.”

His unrelenting charge about “foreign forces” propagating regime change, is an unwelcome reminder of the late PW Botha’s total onslaught doctrine. A doctrine that not only sought a “communist” behind every bush, but frequently blaming domestic uprisings against apartheid on “hostile foreign forces” seeking “regime change.” Minister Mahlobo told the media briefing: ”Attempts at regime change in South Africa are happening,” and then predictably boasted: ” We know who does what."

These “dark and evil forces” must be impressive. According to the minister, they have successfully infiltrated and are using and abusing the judiciary, the media, foreign and domestic companies, NGOs, and religious-, student- and community organisations to achieve their goals.

It was the umpteenth time he told South Africans that “foreign forces” including, foreign intelligence organisations, are working with "negative domestic forces"(read everyone critical of the ANC-led government) to undermine the state and achieve “regime change”.

Despite assuring South Africans that these “foreign forces” and local co-conspirators are known, he inexplicably, refrains from naming and shaming them – going as far as saying “people should not ask for evidence,” and then assure the public counter-intelligence was dealing with this.

Any remaining doubting Thomas was also told: ”We do that work quietly because at the end of the day South Africa should never be a failed state. Our duty is to protect its (SA’s) sovereignty."

It is probably unrealistic to entertain the hope that counter-intelligence would also inform the minister that the ANC-led government under President Zuma is a considerable contributor in helping South Africa to join the league of failed states.

Incredulously, minister Mahlobo “disclosed” that these unnamed “foreign forces and intelligence services” were motivated by (their) own national or economic interests, using … either witting or unwitting collaborators.”

What is the fuss?

Since the beginning of time, kingdoms, empires and states have been motivated by own national and economic interests, using whatever means available – legitimate or illegitimate, even war – to achieve their goals.

It remains one of the main tasks of any state institution, including the intelligence services, to promote the interests of the state.

As a matter of fact, it is the responsibility of any respectable intelligence service to on the one hand to help further  state interests and, on the other, to help prevent harm being inflicted on own interests.

Not too long ago South Africa was accused of the same transgressions, with fierce criticism levelled at the manner which  South African interests were allegedly advanced in the CAR and DRC.

Making it even worse is the fact that the beneficiaries were not the SAG or the South African public, but politically well-connected individuals.

No trust        

Why the minister of State Security does not trust his fellow South Africans remains unclear.

If these “foreign forces” are exposed, we, as fellow South Africans, can help stop them in their tracks and prevent them to accomplish their mission – boycott their businesses and products or organise protest marches to intimidate them and force them to repent – South Africans are very good at that!

As long as these “dark and sinister forces” remain unnamed and the government, particularly the minister of State Security, hides behind the convenient shield of “national security” to avoid delivering irrefutable proof, so long will members of the South African public reserve the right to express cynicism about these claims – as they did on social media platforms in reaction to the declared intentions regarding the internet and social media regulation.

 The following post summed it up quite nicely: ”Perhaps the ANC can reveal to the nation which foreign powers have donated to its election campaigns, and how a certain family, said to be based in Dubai, could hire and fire cabinet ministers at will. Then we can talk openly about democracy and foreign influence”.

 Minister Mahlobo’s sustained refusal to give details about his claims, gives credence to the view of many analysts and observers that there is no evidence to support these claims.

It is, in fact, a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the ANC government’s mounting problems.

Many would agree with Dr Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies’ view that: ”Weak governments tended to blame outsiders for their own inefficiencies. The weaker a government becomes, the more inclined it is to hide behind these suspicions of foreign threats”.

Paranoia                 

Minister Mahlobo’s comments coincide with the views expressed in a draft document prepared by the ANC’s peace and stability committee for its June 2017 policy conference.

If adopted it will, at some point, become formal party policy and eventually at least in part government policy. 

This raises the always awkward question: Was the minister wearing his ANC- or government hat when he made these claims?

If it was the former, it could be seen as attempts by a political party seriously in trouble, shifting the blame for your own mistakes – a popular and often used tactic by governing parties.

It is a more serious matter altogether if he made the claims wearing his hat as cabinet minister – then it carry an unhealthy dose of paranoia – and paranoia in the country’s intelligence and security establishments is the last thing South Africa now needs.  

On a more personal note, the possibility of “regime change” in South Africa because of yet unconfirmed nefarious activities of unnamed and unidentified “foreign forces” and “foreign intelligence services” is as remote as an invasion of South Africa by a legion of three-headed giants from a distant galaxy.

But, because we are a democracy, regime change will come inevitably, despite the President “preaching” about the second coming and ANC rule. It will come via the ballot box, and increasingly looking possible as early as the year of our Lord 2019.

by Garth Cilliers

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