“It is hard to lose a game of cards when you can see the other fellow’s hand,” wrote one of the UK’s leading experts on intelligence, John Hughes-Wilson, in his 2017 volume On Intelligence – The History of Espionage and the Secret World.
Look around you. The decade-long attack on the Constitution by those protecting Jacob Zuma from scrutiny has damaged public trust in government, the ANC, the media, law enforcement and the judiciary.
It attempted unlawfully to undermine trade unions and civil society and the right to protest and demand accountability, but not before causing irreparable damage to South Africa’s capacity to protect itself and its citizens from legitimate threats.
To say nothing of depriving the fiscus of billions which could have been used to rebuild a shattered country.
Witnesses to the Zondo Commission last week confirmed what most of us have known, and published, all along: that Zuma managed to turn his side of the ANC into a sprawling private crime syndicate disguised as a political party.
The State Security Agency (SSA), whose duty was to protect our constitutional democracy, was subverted, co-opted and ended up aiding and abetting an attack on the South African state from within. This happened under the watch of three ministers of state security.
The rot began, make no mistake, before Zuma’s taking office. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, opened the way for the use of intelligence for “political and economic intelligence”.
Zuma just took it where leaders, from Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu (author of The Art of War) to Roman emperors, took it before – to protect personal and political power at the expense of the greater good.
That the environment is fraught and unsalvageable is evidenced in the leaks and counter-leaks that have taken place in the lead-up to testimony on the SSA, aimed at discrediting witnesses.
There have been threats, there have been leaked identities of witnesses, with many wild allegations tainting their credibility whispered into the ether.
On Sunday, the ever-theatrical former spy boss Arthur Fraser lodged a criminal complaint at the Hillbrow police charge office against Zondo Commission evidence leader Paul Pretorius, the chair of the High-Level Review Panel, Sydney Mufamadi, witnesses Mr Y and Ms K, acting SSA director-general Loyiso Jafta and an advocate, V September, instead of submitting them to cross-examination when his time comes at the commission.
Last time Fraser appeared he asked for immunity should he be forced to “break his oath of office”. Zondo said he had not been blessed with such powers but that Fraser should come armed with his best.
Fraser’s legal representative, Rapulane Kgoroeadira, himself a former SSA employee between 2004 to 2016, said “the falsehoods peddled during what our client considers the monumental compromise of the country’s intelligence by SSA officials have left him with no choice but to lay criminal charges against those who conspired to tell the nation blatant and deliberate falsehoods”.
Where there is smoke, there will be mirrors.
The relationship between the current Minister of State Security, Ayanda Dlodlo, and acting DG Jafta is reportedly “tense”, with Jafta commanding Ramaphosa’s ear.
Dlodlo is no intellectual jellyfish, but it cannot be overlooked that she supported Zuma and at some stage found herself in Dubai courtesy of the former First Family, the Guptas.
South Africa’s intelligence agencies, including SAPS Crime Intelligence, let us also not forget, had free access to the secret service account and have also been implicated in protecting Zuma and infiltrating the media.
The sprawl of the disease is too deep and too established to keep the SSA in its current form. Everyone is at everyone else’s throats while global state players are competing over Africa’s future, and international crime syndicates command economies among the poor and desperate.
Ramaphosa’s move to split the service again into foreign (headed by Robert McBride) and domestic (no permanent appointment has yet been made) might provide a fresh start, but there are too many devils deep in the system for it to remain untainted and beyond suspicion.
The appointment of a minister who would have enough gravitas and experience as well as the respect of the citizens to act in their interests and not that of a governing party alone would be a start.
But who? Who remains unblemished?
Everyone knows there are no angels in the intelligence world. Not one.
There are only angels with lesser devils or who are able to fight back against their demons.
The State Security Agency has become the problem itself. That is not the way things should be. It should serve and help us, the citizens of South Africa, not create a state of its own, whose prodigious appetite is unaccountably sated by an uninterrupted gush of taxpayers’ money.
To clean up as best we can, we must start from scratch. There are many ethical officials at the SSA who know their stuff. We must start afresh, recruit talent, do lifestyle audits, institute proper security checks and clearances, bring on board trained professionals and above all, favour those who hold the country and our future dear.
There is no simple reboot possible for the SSA. It must be tossed on the trash-heap of history. We have no other choice but to build something new. State security must serve South Africa, not the other way around. DM
Che Guevara hailed from an Irish family.
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