South Africa

Op-Ed: Why I don’t Trust David Mahlobo and the State Security Agency

By John Steenhuisen 22 March 2017

I feel it important to expand on the reasons why I don’t trust State Security Minister Mahlobo and the State Security Agency and why I believe the finger of suspicion reasonably points in their direction. By JOHN STEENHUISEN.

After last week’s break-in at the offices of the Chief Justice where sensitive personal information was stolen, I tweeted my personal suspicions about State Security Agency (SSA) involvement. Despite the fact that half the nation shared the same suspicion, the tweet elicited a ferocious rant of protest from the ANC who immediately issued a statement vilifying me.

It was rather strange that they weren’t nearly so quick off the mark on important matters like Marikana, Life Esidimeni and the Sassa crisis. Nevertheless I feel it important to expand on the reasons why I don’t trust State Security Minister Mahlobo and the SSA and why I believe the finger of suspicion reasonably points in their direction.

First, the Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, is a known Zuma acolyte who holds Parliament and its independent oversight role in complete contempt.

It was Mahlobo who came up with the unconstitutional brainwave of installing a signal jammer in the National Assembly chamber to block journalists and the opposition from communicating with the outside world.

It is also Mahlobo who has been at the heart of the significant securitisation of the parliamentary precinct to intimidate the opposition and staff.

Mahlobo further displayed his complete disdain for the legislature by lying blatantly to the National Assembly when questioned on the Mcebo Dlamini matter.

Mahlobo doesn’t believe in a constitutional democracy, the separation of powers and the judiciary’s constitutional function. He will do anything to turn them and Parliament into slavish extensions of the Zuma executive.

Second, the timing of the break-in must awaken deep suspicion from any thinking South African. It came at the end of a torrid week for the Zuma administration which faced two significant legal setbacks from the judiciary; the damning judgment handed down by the Constitutional Court judges on the Sassa crisis and the setting aside of the appointment of key Zuma ally, Berning Ntlemeza, as head of the Hawks.

Both showed up the embarrassing ineptitude presided over by President Zuma. But perhaps more significant was the fact that the break-in occurred a mere fortnight after Mahlobo had made some rather chilling public comments. In a post-Cabinet briefing session he announced that members of the opposition, the media, various NGOs and the judiciary were being used by “domestic and foreign forces to undermine the government” (the obvious irony of his own fraternisation with Chinese rhino horn smugglers seemingly and rather conveniently lost on him). Mahlobo’s unfounded and deeply inappropriate comments show that the minister regards an independent judiciary as some kind of “threat” to state security. It doesn’t then take much logic to move from the perceived threat to the action that must then be taken by the SSA to neutralise that supposed threat.

The reality is that David Mahlobo doesn’t believe in parliamentary democracy and he doesn’t believe in the open society. His worldview has been so perverted by his blind loyalty to the Zuma state capture project that he truly believes that all apparatus of state, including the SSA, must be manipulated to protect President Zuma.

We have been in this movie before; when John Vorster and his Nationalists were on the ropes, they too retreated into the state security apparatus. They utilised the infamous Bureau Of State Security (BOSS) to conduct dirty tricks, intimidate the judiciary and perceived enemies and crush the opposition. It’s little wonder that Mahlobo is so infatuated with the Russian state security apparatus. Anybody who has read the book Red Notice by Bill Browder will be all too familiar with how dangerous a politically captured and unaccountable state security agency can be. In Russia, killings, smears and poisoning of journalists, political rivals and opposition politicians by the state security apparatus is the order of the day.

Last, I am also of the belief that there is not nearly enough effective democratic oversight over the SSA, their budget and their operations. Even the parliamentary committee to which they are supposed to account is not given access to key documents and briefings to enable them to effectively hold Mahlobo and his department fully accountable. It was precisely this lack of accountability which led to the Principle Agent Network (PAN) project scandal. Under this project hundreds of millions of rand were siphoned off into private pockets and deployed for nefarious and sinister purposes. To date not a single person has been held accountable, prosecuted or charged for this grand scale theft and abuse by the State Security Agency. Quite the opposite actually, as some of the chief protagonists in the PAN project are today directing the operations of the SSA.

To my mind the timing of the break-in, the type of information that was stolen, previous and subsequent break-ins targeting organisations and individuals, point to a sinister and organised campaign of intimidation of the judiciary. By his own admission Mahlobo regards them as a threat to the state. The great irony is that while Mahlobo continues with his political James Bond-style games, the real threats to our nation’s safety are not receiving adequate attention. This is why more than 20 schools get burnt down, why there is a failure to detect student unrest and major outbreaks of xenophobic violence and why the minister fraternises in a house of ill repute with a known rhino horn smuggler, while all the while the SSA remains oblivious.

There is a fundamental breach of trust that exists between the nation and the state security apparatus – suspicion and mistrust that Mahlobo’s behaviour and conspiratorial outbursts do little to assuage. Indeed Mahlobo, the SSA and the ANC must not protest too much when the finger of accusation is pointed in their direction. DM

John Steenhuisen is Chief Whip, Democratic Alliance.

Photo: Minister of State Security David Mahlobo during Pre-Budget Vote  Media Briefing 2016. (SIYABULELA DUDA/GCIS)

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