Spy Watch

A Chinese massage parlour and a ‘jammed’ memory

David Mahlobo and friend
Maholo and friend.jpg

Twice in one week the blundering Minister of State Security again embarrassed the country, his government, his department and himself.

Background

The recent Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s exposé of high-level political connections to rhino poaching in Africa included serious questions about the involvement of South Africa’s State Security Minister, David Mahlobo.

The cause of the concern and embarrassment is the claim by the Chinese owner of a massage parlour in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, and a self-confessed rhino horn trader, that he and Minister Mahlobo are good friends and that the minister is a frequent client.

As proof he showed the Al Jazeera journalist photos on his mobile phone of him and the minister in relaxed mood.

Later, more photos surfaced, showing Minister Mahlobo in the company of Chinese females, identified as employees of the massage parlour.   

The Chinese businessman, Jianguang Guan, also alleged that minister Mahlobo’s wife is a business acquaintance.

Guan is apparently a successful businessman and owns various other properties including a hotel, the Khayalami Boutique Hotel in Sonheuwel, Mbombela, which, according to one of the hotel’s conference managers, is a venue regularly used by government officials and police departments for conferences and functions.

Denial

Minister Mahlobo vehemently denied that he was a friend of the Chinese businessman, but admitted to be a regular visitor to the massage parlour. He also denied that he was aware of the man’s criminal activities.

It is very hard to believe that the minister of state security, who is supposed to be in the forefront of the fight against organised crime, was in the dark, as the Hawks know the massage parlour owner is a rhino horn smuggler.

In fact, the Hawks had requested Al Jazeera to delay the airing of their exposé, titled The Poachers’ Pipeline, because their own investigation into rhino horn smuggling, which included the Mbombela Chinese massage parlour owner, was in an advanced state.

It is a challenging task for Minister Mahlobo to convince a sceptic public he is not a friend of Jianguang Guan when the latter presents a series of photos displaying the two in what appears to be ‘relaxing’ circumstances.

Minister Mahlobo’s denial that his wife is a business acquaintance of the Chinese, as Guan alleges, brings to mind the similar predicament his predecessor, Siyabonga Cwele, faced when he claimed he did not know his former wife was peddling drugs.

She is currently serving a jail sentence.

Guns blazing

As expected, minister Mahlobo came out with guns blazing and described the Al Jazeera program as “gutter journalism”, insisting that all allegations and innuendos against him were made without a shred of evidence.

Minister Mahlobo also announced that he requested the Mpumalanga Police Commissioner to investigate the allegations as “he is not above the law” and vowed: “I’m going to subject myself to the issues that are being raised. This thing of trying to scandalise people and tarnish their image is not going to succeed.”

Sceptics are not impressed. Some are citing minister Mahlobo’s deep ties to Mpumalanga power structures and suggesting that the investigation will be a white wash.

As an alternative it has been suggested that the Public Protector’s office should be instructed to investigate the allegations.

Minister Mahlobo also indicated that he will seek legal advice and that he considers filing charges against Al Jazeera.

The minister has the full right to do so, but that is not the issue. What is at stake here is the damage done by his indiscretions to the country and his ministry’s reputation, locally and abroad.

His lack of insight and responsibility is staggering and his excuse that he was unaware of Guan’s criminal activities is hard to swallow.

If the Hawks are in the know, how can he as minister of state security and a leading member of the government’s interdepartmental security and intelligence cluster plead ignorance?

If true, Minister Mahlobo’s account is an indictment of the ineptness of his own department and shows a serious flaw in sharing information regarding one of the most serious challenges South Africa is facing.

Just how serious the challenge is, was explained by no less than President Jacob Zuma at the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Johannesburg. He described wildlife trafficking for the first time as a “significant threat … to this country’s national security”.

Battered reputation          

Minister Mahlobo’s reputation has taken a battering since President Zuma pulled him from obscurity as head of the Department for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the Mpumalanga provincial administration and appointed him minister of state security with no security or intelligence background.

After this massage parlour revelation, and in the same week, Minister Mahlobo blundered for a second time.

His contradictory statements in parliament on the extent of his relationship with the controversial #feesmustfall student leader, Mcebo Dlamini, prompted the Democratic Alliance (DA) to report him to the Public Protector for “lying” to parliament. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) called him a “minister without dignity”.

The Intelligence Bulletin reported more than once before on some of the security and intelligence blunders that occurred on Minister Mahlobo’s watch. The list includes:

  • the decision to “investigate” the ludicrous accusations of certain public figures being spies for the CIA (apparently only because they are irritants to the ANC);
  • failure to foresee xenophobic attacks and the #feesmustfall campaigns;
  • the theft of R17 million from the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) high security headquarters in Pretoria; and the list goes on ...

With so much credibility and integrity lost and the country’s security establishment so seriously compromised, change at the top is a critical necessity. The question, however is, can President Zuma afford it?

Also read: South African democracy in mortal danger from within

 

by Garth Cilliers

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