It’s smoke and mirrors in South Africa’s spook world again as spy boss Gibson Njenje’s resignation is announced and then denied, with an explanation expected on Monday. Meanwhile, the DA is doing what it does best in times of uncertainty – write letters to the minister. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
Gibson Njenje has called a meeting first thing on Monday morning to clarify his position to State Security Agency (SSA) staff – and to tell them whether he’s staying or going.
Njenje is said to have announced his resignation in an internal memorandum on Friday, which co-incided with a speculative story in the Mail & Guardian reporting that he might be on his way out.
State Security spokesman Brian Dube confirmed Njenje’s resignation on the same day in a statement, but when asked about it by Sunday newspapers, Njenje denied it in the Sunday Times. He admitted there were “issues”, but said he was still discussing these with State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
This has led to speculation that Cwele is pushing Njenje to resign, together with director-general Jeff Maqetuka and the head of the South African Secret Service, Moe Shaik. The trio were appointed two years ago after the restructuring of the country’s intelligence services.
City Press reported that the bigwigs have refused to quit and were seeking legal advice, as they believe that President Jacob Zuma himself has to do their hiring and firing.
While it’s uncertain whether the bosses are on their way out or not, the versions in the newspapers over the reasons behind the row also seem to differ.
According to the City Press the catalyst was unhappiness within the agency after Cwele ordered that his wife, drug-trafficker Sheryl, be given intelligence protection for the duration of her drugs trial.
It reported that SSA only provides security for foreign heads of state and other very important visitors to the country, while VIP protection is usually the domain of the police.
The Sunday Times and The Sunday Independent, in turn, reported that this was a déjà vu reminiscent of the run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, when divisions over the election of a new president also split the spooks.
Reports say that Njenje’s close ties to ANC bigwig Tony Yengeni and his hanging out with ANC Youth League guys have caused mistrust between him and Cwele.
Apparently some adults feel the kids have been getting too much information from the spooks and Njenje is suspected to be the leak. Coincidentally, Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu, who himself is subject to the disciplinary hearing involving the League, on Friday complained in a statement that “unmarked people” identifying themselves as intelligence agents have been interrogating members of his organisation in various provinces “during the early hours of the morning” about the violent protest outside the ANC’s headquarters.
If this is true, then spies are apparently not as secretive as they used to be.
There has been talk that the ANC – afraid of what actions might come – had approached SSA prior to the hearing to ask for help, but officially the agency declined to help as intra-party fights are not part of its job description.
(Unofficially, though, it does get involved, as the drama around the pre-Polokwane Browse Mole Report and the hiring and firing that goes on in the agency is evidence of.)
DA spokesman on state security Dirk Stubbe on Sunday said he had written to Cwele to ask for proof of Njenje’s resignation letter by way of explanation about what’s going on in the department.
Ever the good prefect, Stubbe has also cc’ed Intelligence Inspector-General advocate Faith Radebe, so that she knows what’s going on and can intervene if necessary.
“If Mr Njenje has indeed resigned, he must go quietly so that the department can get on with its job of protecting state security. If Njenje has not resigned, then the minister is lying and it is he who should resign,” Stubbe said.
Just to cover all his bases, Stubbe has also asked Cwele to explain the claims around the spooks and the Youth League, as well as allegations that Cwele’s wife got special security treatment.
Dube simply said in an SMS on Sunday: “We don’t want to conduct the business of the agency through the media, and we refuse to be drawn to debates driven by people who distort issues. At the appropriate time the minister will issue a statement to inform the public”.
It is unclear what is left for Cwele to clarify.
Njenje’s closeness to Bosasa, a security company which has provided hi-tech protection to state institutions, including prisons and courts – which are governed by the same cluster as State Security – was seen as a problem when he was appointed.
Njenje resigned his directorships in 2002 when he started working for intelligence, but rejoined the Bosasa board in May 2009, resigning again in October when he was appointed in his current job.
Another attempted forced resignation by SSA operations chief Arthur Fraser in February last year, following allegations of maladministration, didn’t work out so well and Fraser has managed to stay on with the agency somehow, although he has been replaced.
It has been reported that Fraser, who was appointed by former president Thabo Mbeki, didn’t get on so well with Njenje at the time, while he was also fingered – possibly wrongly – as the person who leaked the spy tapes which got Zuma off the hook for corruption charges in 2009. DM
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle