State Security report (the Sum of All Our Fears) and the future of SA (happy beginnings?)
For over 10 years there has been intense speculation about the real role our intelligence services play, and their apparent politicisation. Now there are findings, in black and white, from the High-Level Review on the State Security Panel. It’s pretty terrifying, and yet it could be an important and positive milestone in our history.
For most, it has not been so much about how they have operated against opposition parties, but how they have appeared to play a political role regarding the different factions within the ANC. By and large, they appear to confirm the public perception of our intelligence services as being severely politicised, particularly from when Jacob Zuma took over as president in 2009.
All the revelations notwithstanding, the real question may now be what political impact this report will have, and what does it do for the relative strength of the factions within the ANC.
The full report is an interesting case of confirming that public perceptions of intelligence agencies have turned out to be true. Everything you thought and believed about our spooks: that they were acting for Zuma, that they were focused on internal ANC battles rather than your safety, that they abused their resources in a corrupt manner, that they spied on civil society groups and infiltrated the media, all of it was found by this panel of experts to be true.
In their words:
“From about 2005, with the emergence of the divisions in the ANC, there has been a growing politicisation and factionalisation of the civilian intelligence community based on the factions in the ANC… This became progressively worse during the administration of the former President, with parallel structures being created that directly serviced the personal and political interests of the President, and in some cases, the relevant Minister”.
Then there is this:
“The manipulation of the SAA for factional purposes has emerged from – the Presidency – through the Ministry of State Security and into the management and staff of the SSA.”
For those who remember how, back in 2013, three spy bosses tried to curb the Guptas’ influence, there is this finding:
“The failure of the Executive to heed the intelligence warning about the threats posed by the influence of a certain family over government officials and especially the former President has cost the country dearly. However, the failure of the SSA to address state capture could not be considered a significant intelligence failure, as the Minister at the time was made aware of the threat and failed to act on the intelligence at his disposal.”
The report does not name names. But the Minister at the time was Siyabonga Cwele, who is currently the Minister of Home Affairs. Two years before this warning, his then-wife had been convicted of drugs trafficking. It also does not name another Minister, who it says received money, in cash.
The panel writes, “The Panel interviewed one member of SSA who had previously served in the Minister’s office during his time as Minister of State Security, who confirmed to the panel that he had, from time to time, been asked by a member of SO (Special Operations) to pass parcels containing cash to the Minister.”
It is likely, from the timeline, to have been now former Minister of State Security David Mahlobo. Mahlobo, for his part, says he has no need to comment on the contents of the report, because his name is not mentioned in it.
The other person who is not named, but whose identity can surely be inferred from the timeline, is Arthur Fraser. He is currently the National Commissioner of Correctional Services. But he was strongly implicated in Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers as the man who was running his own intelligence network called the Principal Agent Network. This report appears to show that all of Pauw’s reporting was true. It makes these findings:
“The Panel was able to identify the key player in the politicisation of SO and the SSA in general (the member is currently serving the government in a senior capacity). According to reports, he was ‘deployed’ to SSA by the then President via the Minister at the time to head up the SO chief directorate. This was in spite of allegations that he left his previous employ under a cloud of corruption allegations. According to his CV, the member served in the ANC underground structures and Department of Intelligence and Security. The Panel needs to put on record that this member was the most recalcitrant and evasive ‘witness’ it had encountered in all its interviews. He invoked the ‘need to know principle’ to withhold information – particularly with regard to his interaction with the Executive – from the Panel.
“It is clear to the Panel that the SSA’s SO unit, especially under the watch of the member mentioned above, was a law unto itself and directly served the political interests of the Executive. It also undertook intelligence operations which were clearly unconstitutional and illegal.”
The depth of the problems of the entire service also perhaps be summed up in this particular paragraph:
“One of the things that surprised the Panel was that the revised Oath of Allegiance that SSA members are expected to take requires members to swear allegiance to the Constitution, the laws of the country AND the President. It also requires them to ‘recognise the authority of the Minister of State Security”.
So then, if this report does actually confirm almost everything we knew, or thought we knew about the SSA, what next?
First, this appears to be yet another victory for what is becoming the Ramaphosa style of solving the problem called Zuma Years. Get an independent group of people who are highly respected to do an investigation, make findings, and then make sure they end up in public. The report was actually given to the Presidency in December. It was released on Saturday afternoon (just in time for the Sunday newspapers…) after the Presidency had previously denied a request by the Right2Know organisation, which, of course, is one of the groups that was monitored by the SSA.
After this report, it should be impossible for those who did Zuma’s bidding in the SSA to deny what happened. This should lead to proper action being taken against Fraser. Already the DA has demanded that he and others be suspended. Then there is the ANC’s list process. It would surely be tough for some to argue that Mahlobo and Cwele should retain their positions on the ANC’s list. It should also lead to calls for a proper shake-out of the entire intelligence network.
This is all to the benefit of Ramaphosa, it strengthens his hand, and weakens the hand of those who support Zuma and those around him. The timing of this could also be important. The panel recommends that criminal action be taken against those who broke the law, particularly for those who simply took money that has not been accounted for. Now that this is in the public domain, there is likely to be a clamour for action.
Happily for Ramaphosa, both the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority are now run by people who he can trust to do the right thing. Presumably, the Hawks will investigate quickly, and hand over their dockets to the NPA. And once criminal charges are instituted against members of the SSA, surely no labour court judge in the world would insist that they stay on in such a sensitive position.
(There is an important aside and precedent to this that explains much of what has happened in government over the last 12 years. In 2007 the Constitutional Court said that then-President Thabo Mbeki could dismiss then-National Intelligence Agency head Billy Masetlha simply because of the breakdown of trust between them. Judges said it could not be possible to force a president to retain a spy chief he didn’t trust. But because of the labour law, they also said that Masetlha should be placed in the same financial position as if he had finished his term. This then was a precedent that allowed people to be paid out in full for a contract they did not complete. Beneficiaries of this include Dali Mpofu at the SABC, Mxolisi Nxasana at the NPA and many others. In Arthur Fraser’s case, the precedent may well follow that it would be impossible to trust lower-ranking officials in the SSA while they are facing criminal charges, and so they too can be at least suspended).
The point of this is that it may well be claimed in some circles that Zuma and others still have power through the intelligence agencies, that they are still able to know what their opponents are doing. If that is true, this report could give an impetus to a move to dismantle that entire network. This would surely strengthen Ramaphosa and weaken Zuma and his supporters.
From his side, Zuma is obviously feeling the heat and has stated on Sunday afternoon, managing to sound both threatening and fearful at the same time:
I have never been asked any questions by this committee. This committee has 2 well known Apartheid spies. I’ve never sold out nor written letters to the SB. I feel nothing when Apartheid spies call me corrupt. I hope people are not opening a can of worms which they might regret
— Jacob G Zuma (@PresJGZuma) March 10, 2019
We will almost certainly hear much more from him in the coming days.
There is also another aspect to the report’s publication. It is becoming increasingly clear that for the ANC the public perception of Ramaphosa is crucially important for their election prospects. On Saturday evening City Press quoted Gauteng Premier David Makhura as making this point:
RT @Les2020ic: #ANCmeetsProfessionals Makhura says the upcoming elections will be the first which will not be about the parties but about the quality of leaders and says Ramaphosa has no challenge and is best man to lead
— City Press (@City_Press) March 9, 2019
Makhura was essentially saying that this election is all about Ramaphosa, and not so much the ANC. This is a crucial point. In relation to the SSA, if it is shown that he is cleaning out the SSA, and ensuring that we understand what had happened there, this could boost his personal popularity at a time when the ANC needs to bask in his ratings the most.
The much bigger question, of course, is whether all of this work by the panel will lead to the creation of systems and structures that will ensure our spy services are cleaned up, and never politicised again. This is something many democracies grapple with. It will not be easy, and any structure that is set up is likely to be found wanting at some point. But the report has created a good starting point. The fractured nature of the ANC at present may also provide a useful action space. It will require effort, political will, and truckloads of expertise, which is a lot to ask these days. DM
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved