Former special ops boss Thulani “Silence” Dlomo dismissed by State Security Agency

By Marianne Merten 15 October 2019
Former special ops boss Thulani “Silence” Dlomo. Original photo by

Thulani Dlomo, the intelligence special ops boss closely associated with former president Jacob Zuma, has been sacked. That’s confirmed by both state security ministry and agency on Tuesday. In the real world of smoke and mirrors, it’s a little more complicated, of course.

Marianne Merten

The letter dismissing Thulani Dlomo, the former State Security Agency (SSA) special ops boss and spy, has been written, signed but not yet delivered because he can’t be found. And so the agency has invoked the AWOL clause – and stopped Dlomo’s salary and benefits with immediate effect.

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo confirmed to Daily Maverick the dismissal letter had been finalised. “The letter is there. Whether he’s received it, I do not know.”

Dlomo had not received it – yet, confirmed SSA Director: Domestic Branch Mahlodi Muofhe, adding the agency had now invoked the AWOL regulation to effect the dismissal.

The letter was signed. We dispatched our officials to look for him (Dlomo) and he is nowhere to be found… We are doing everything by the book,” confirmed Muofhe to Daily Maverick.

And that meant bringing to bear Regulation 15, effectively the AWOL provision that triggers automatic dismissal after 10 days absence without good cause. This means because he’s not provided good reason why he should not be dismissed, Dlomo now is indeed dismissed.

Dlomo’s salary and benefits like medical aid already have been stopped. He will not be paid later in October, confirmed Muofhe. “It has taken so long because he’s been so evasive.”

That it has come to this point is a clear signal the clean up of the intelligence services is firmly underway. That this route is not without troubles is clear from the fact that it’s taken some eight months to get to this stage.

Dlomo had snubbed the SSA to which he was ordered to return in January 2019, when he was recalled as ambassador to Japan. In a briefing on the SSA Budget vote in July 2019 debate it emerged Dlomo was still at the agency, but acting SSA Director-General Loyiso Jafta declined to give details beyond that.

Effectively for some eight months Dlomo did as he pleased, one of the SSA rogue actors the Daily Maverick editorial says are a clear and present danger to South Africa’s constitutional democracy.

SSA special operations when headed by Dlomo was sharply criticised as “illegal” by the High Level Review Panel on the SSA.

That special operations unit is described in the High Level Review Panel report as “a law onto itself and directly served the political interests of the executive”. Or as the report puts it:

“…SO (special operations) had largely become a parallel intelligence structure serving a faction of the ruling party and, in particular, the personal political interests of the sitting president of the party and country. This is in direct breach of the Constitution, the White Paper, the relevant legislation and plain good government intelligence functioning.”

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the SSA assessment by a panel of experts in June 2018, it was widely regarded as the start of the clean up. The High Level Review Panel report was published with redactions only in March 2019, some three months after it was submitted to the president in December 2018.

But already in January 2019 Dlomo officially was recalled as ambassador to Japan where he had been assigned in August 2017 by then-president Jacob Zuma.

According to International Relations, that recall came on request from then state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, News24 reported at the time. Then international relations spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya is quoted, saying:

The Minister of Intelligence asked that Dirco return to State Security Agency all their senior officials who were deployed as diplomats to strengthen their capacity in the agency. The director general is managing their return and logistics.” 

Messy? Undoubtedly, but given the high levels of politicisation in the SSA and related dodgy dealings, it’s unsurprising. This all highlights the challenges of returning the intelligence services firmly into the constitutional fold.

In early 2018 then SSA director-general Arthur Fraser was moved to head correctional services after an unprecedented public and bruising blowout with the Inspector-General of Intelligence Setlhomamaru Dintwe, who had turned to the courts for protection after Fraser in March 2018 withdrew his security clearance needed for the oversight job.

At the time the intelligence inspector-general was investigating the Pan Agent Network (PAN) programme. DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen in May 2017 had laid formal complaint over lack of action after eight years of investigations and findings or irregularities in the PAN project Fraser had established in 2007.

By December 2018 the High Level Review Panel report again recommended urgent forensic and other investigations “by the competent authorities into the breaches of financial and other controls identified by some of the information available to the Panel and other investigations, especially with regard to the PAN project and SO, leading to disciplinary and/or criminal prosecutions…”

Fraser has sharply dismissed the panel’s report as “treasonous”.

The challenges of the depoliticisation and professionalisation of the SSA have been identified by Letsatsi-Duba, and her successor Dlodlo .

The uphill is not insignificant: “The pace at which we are moving at the SSA is also a problem and when I push, I’m micromanaging,” Dlodlo told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday.

It was a rare moment of publicly displayed frustration from a minister who’s usually much more guarded.

Dlodlo, Muofhe and acting Deputy Director-General for counter intelligence Sipho Blose came to Parliament at a few days’ notice and presented their take on vetting of officials in supply chain management and elsewhere in government.

Co-incidentally, 48% of public servants have been vetted – although at Eskom 100 of the 121 senior executives requested to undergo vetting have declined. And MPs were told that refusal at the power utility is not unusual as senior government officials refuse vetting, or their departmental bosses ignore vetting reports.

That perhaps is a consequence of what the High Level Review Panel had identified as a politicised, factional intelligence service in urgent need of review and restructuring.

The dismissal of one official identified as key to this politicisation, former SSA special ops boss Thulani “Silence” Dlomo, is an important step in this process of review and restructuring to ensure constitutional compliance of the intelligence services. But it is only one. DM



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