Straight-shooting son of a gun
29 September 2016 18:55 (South Africa)
South Africa

The day the State Security Agency started investigating opposition politicians for being CIA agents

  • Richard Poplak
    HEADSHOT_Rich-Poplak_orange.jpg
    Richard Poplak

    Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreal’s Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africa’s leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective.

    His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africa’s 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014).  Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada.

    Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continent’s 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift

  • South Africa
Poplak-AlwaysTruePost_subbed.jpg

After the State Security Agency joined the long line of spy shops to become a laughing stock, the government is fighting back. On Thursday afternoon, they warned us of an espionage plot hatched by a CIA superspy team comprising Julius Malema, Lindiwe Mazibiuko and Thuli Madonsela. Where did they gather their 'intelligence'? Try a fringe website called Africa Intelligence Leaks, which sports the (perhaps ironic) tagline, 'Always True Post'. RICHARD POPLAK holds his nose and dives in.

Have you, dear reader, ever been present at a birth other than your own? Have you witnessed the whelping of a human the mucous, blood and unidentifiable goop marking the entrance of another protagonist/antagonist on to the increasingly crowded stage? What a business! What theatre! In the tragi-comedy we call life, the first moments are always most dramatic. Everything else is a bit pallid by comparison.

This is something we should keep in mind as a postmodern digital surveillance state is pulled from the ruling party’s womb by the unskilled hands of a trainee obstetrician. Over the course of the past few weeks, we’ve been (un)edified by so-called Spy Cables drama. Dribbled out by our info-meisters at The Guardian and Al Jazeera, and leaked to said publications by God-knows-who (although we here at the Daily Maverick have our suspicions), the Spy Cables delivered a bunch of gossipy HUMINT that portrayed our spooks as ordinary schleps, folks just trying to make it through the day without accidentally blowing up southern Africa with their shoe nukes.

What did the Spy Cables tells us? Mostly that the SSA are sort of lax, asleep-on-the-job security hacks that simultaneously underestimate and overestimate the importance of security in a world gone mad. There is some sanity to be found in the Spy Cables the security cluster refused to buy into the manufactured hysteria regarding the Global War on Terror™, and refused to see an Al-Qaeda operative lurking in every closet. But the SSA, like the rest of this parochial, inward-looking country, was mostly interested in itself. Our security apparatus, on final assessment, must be considered the institutional manifestation of a selfie stick.

Every modern democracy worthy of the name spies on itself, tracks its citizens’ movements, erases freedoms while pretending to uphold them. In fact, the very meaning of ‘democracy’ has shifted – the spiders and bots that aggregate our Amazon purchases and Gumtree dildo purchases are our real leaders, and we all know it. The virtual world is where the real world goes for roll call, while the Luddites and Unabombers are laughed at by spooks who track them with night-vision drones.

Which is not to say that all the spying amounts to anything. It doesn’t make us safer, and it doesn’t make the government more secure, mostly because there is no such thing as an inviolable digital cache. If a nerd with a flash drive can smash the multi-billion dollar National Security Agency (NSA), then any spy service is doomed to embarrassment.

Still, there are stupid spies, and there are stupider spies. Judged on this miserable scale, how daft is the SSA? (Which, it should be noted, is not the same thing as asking: how dangerous is the SSA?)

Allow me to answer by bringing your attention to a recent paranoid delusion. On Thursday evening, a press release was sent out, titled “Statement by Government on Alleged Activities of Espionage.” Now, any time “espionage” is included in the subject of a government email, the wary journalist clenches his buttocks and braces for the worst. Generally, what he is about to read is the equivalent of watching a YouTube video of a fat kid ride a Skidoo into a dam wall – huge guffaw, followed by an eon of sickening, saddening self-hatred.

So it was with this time. Tjekkit:

The Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, released a statement on 25 February 2015 wherein he raised a concern regarding social media reports alleging the espionage activities. The Minister further indicated that the government was going to look further into this matter.

These allegations made are in relation to the Head of the Office of the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela as well as other political figures, such as Julius Malema, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Joseph Mathunjwa. A search conducted on these allegations made, led Government to the following website: africainteligenceleaks.wordpress.com, including other social media platforms. 

The State Security Agency looked at the matter with great concern, as these allegations will impact negatively on our hard-won democracy and will undermine the independence and credibility of our democratic institutions.

The State Security Agency, working with other departments within the security cluster will institute an investigation in order to verify and determine the veracity of the allegations made.

Furthermore, the State Security Agency working with the entire Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster will continue focusing on its core mandate of ensuring that South Africans are protected, secured and safe. 

What in the absolute f**k are they on about? Well, that’s a good question, one that is not answered at all or, rather, one that is answered in its entirety by clicking the hyperlink above.

I did.

Regarding the quality of African Intelligence Leak’s, um, intelligence, I’ll quote the following post, titled “Is Thulisiwe Nomkhosi Madonsela an agent or a CIA employee?”

This is a question hard to answer because the CIA protects its agents. We would need documents to prove this to be true, but maybe we will never have them, or maybe we will. However, in espionage classic literature the weakest element of the chain is, without any doubt, the communications they establish in their networks, whether they communicate with the top of the pyramid or with the basis’ agents.

[one big-ass, all encompassing sic]

Why am I quoting this barely intelligible lunacy?

Because the government of South Africa is investigating the site’s claims.

The SSA, an institution that has just aired its skidmarked underwear to the universe, is taking these ravings seriously. Julius Malema and Thuli Madonsela teaming up as agents of the CIA?

Just picture them, huddling in the back of a News Café, Madonsela quoting from the Scriptures while Malema explains how a Whisper 2000 works.

Don’t worry, the SSA is on it.

There’s too much craziness here to tally. Can the government not just hack the site and see who’s posting these allegations? Do they not have images of Lindiwe Mazibuko funneling Bud at a Harvard kegger to use as a counter-espionage tactic? Mazibuko, “in spite of her black skin condition” (I’m once again quoting African Intelligence Leaks), summed it up rather nicely on Twitter: “It's pretty embarrassing that a SA cabinet minister would issue a press statement responding to a false blog post from the lunatic fringe. ” (The emoticon is, of course, hers I hear they’re standard issue at Ivy League institutions.)

So here it is, all the evidence you ever needed: the government of South Africa has gone insane. In an effort to erase the erasure of sense, they’ve blown up the entire meaning-making machine. This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying; it would be terrifying if it didn’t, once again, elucidate everything we already know about the 2015 iteration of the government. Rotten. Morally bankrupt. Schizophrenic. And like any true paranoid, foisting their sins upon those against whom they’ve sinned.

As the misshapen surveillance-state newborn is nursed on the government’s dripping teat, we are privy to the infanthood of a true monster. But the creature will grow, and it will learn, and it will strengthen, and it will get slightly less stupid.

And by then, it will be too late. DM

Photo: Madonsela, Malema, Mazibuko (Greg Nicolson, Greg Nicolson, TO Molefe – all for Daily Maverick)

  • Richard Poplak
    HEADSHOT_Rich-Poplak_orange.jpg
    Richard Poplak

    Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreal’s Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africa’s leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective.

    His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africa’s 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014).  Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada.

    Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continent’s 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift

  • South Africa

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles

Do Not Miss

Daily Maverick has temporarily suspended comments on the site. Until the interwebs figures out a better way to deal with the naughty kids in the class, the space for your comments is on our Facebook page and the Twitterverse.

Alternatively, you are welcome to send a letter to the editor.