South Africa

ANALYSIS

July looting panel confirms what we knew: SA was failed by the ANC, government and security cluster

Illustrative image | Sources: National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole during an interview on 15 September 2018 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki) | Minister of Police Bheki Cele on 31 January 2022 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach) | EPA-EFE/STR | EPA_EFE/Kim Ludbrook | Daily Maverick / Felix Dlangamandla | Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungisi Louw | Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Trevor Kunene

Monday’s release of a presidential panel report on the deadly and costly July 2021 riots confirmed what we already knew – that the country’s bureaucratic security apparatus failed emphatically in the face of its biggest test in post-apartheid South Africa.

Of course, the spooks might say we have never known what their biggest challenge has been, because such operations are deemed classified. But the fact that tens of thousands of people went on a looting and rioting rampage that started in the name of the country’s former leader, Jacob Zuma, and consequently wiped R50-billion from the fiscus, left at least 342 dead and led to the loss of more than 100,000 jobs (conservatively), is a failure in any security cluster’s books.

What makes matters even worse – or laughable, cringeworthy or tragic – is that documents including a State Security Agency (SSA) report dispatched to the office of the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee on 8 July 2021 – the day Zuma was arrested for contempt, and sporadic outbreaks of violence had already started in KwaZulu-Natal – “categorically” stated that there was no information identified that showed Zuma’s supporters would “gather and protest in a specific area in the province”, according to the presidential panel report. 

This was despite numerous inflammatory remarks made on social media and on the ground after the former president was sentenced to 15-months’ direct imprisonment for contempt by the Constitutional Court on 29 June 2021. 

It was also despite so-called military veterans having gathered at Zuma’s Nkandla home and publicly saying they would resist with force any attempts to arrest their Dear Leader, and were not averse to rendering the province ungovernable in the process. 

It was also despite hundreds of supporters and senior ANC leaders having gathered at the former president’s home over the weekend prior to his arrest in a show of “solidarity”. Dozens of weapons were confiscated that weekend, police have previously said, and the news media is awash with quotes and videos of supporters pledging to stop Zuma’s arrest “by whatever means necessary”.   

Nevertheless, the panel’s report said of that SSA 8 July document: 

“It is unclear what the basis of this information was, and who the sender thereof was. It is also unclear whether this information was relied upon at national level, but what it points to is a contradiction of intelligence at a crucial stage of events. We were informed that this matter is the subject of ongoing investigation.” 

Another ongoing investigation. In state securitese, expect nothing. Again.

The Report of the Expert Panel into the July 2021 Civil Unrest was released on the Presidency website, to zero aplomb, just days before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address. According to the press statement accompanying the report, Ramaphosa is to address its findings and recommendations in his speech.   

Five times Cyril Ramaphosa has put the party before the people — and why he has to stop

What makes the security cluster’s utter failure even more worrisome is that according to the report, even KwaZulu-Natal’s premier, Sihle Zikalala, had told panellists Sandy Africa, advocate Mojankunyane Gumbi and Silumko Sokupa that he was aware of “major mobilisation” taking place on social media following Zuma’s sentencing announcement. 

As an aside, Daily Maverick readers will remember that Zikalala – also the ANC KZN chairman – had broached the idea of a pardon for Zuma with ANC leadership, which may have added to the heightened tension. Another ANC leader in the province, eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, had made known his support for the former president pending his incarceration, via social media. 

Nevertheless, as reported on Monday by Daily Maverick, the 154-page panel report points to a clutch of intelligence and police failures that led to thousands of looters in KwaZulu-Natal, and to a lesser extent Gauteng, running amok for eight days, with law enforcement on the ground and spooks in the ether seemingly outsmarted, outmanned and outgunned. 

Presidential panel report rips into state’s ‘unequivocal’ failure to protect its people during looting mayhem

According to the report, the SSA has “not been without controversy” as highlighted in the 2018 report of the High-Level Review Panel on the entity, also established by Ramaphosa.

With this in mind, the report noted that, as stated in that report, the SSA “had been compromised by factionalism, mismanagement and inefficiency” and that several recommendations had been made to improve its governance. You know where this is going, dear reader. 

“At the time of the July 2021 unrest there was slight progress in the implementation of its recommendations, a matter of concern. We observed that there were vacancies in key management positions still at the time of the unrest, and that the Provincial offices were understaffed.”

This issue of vacancies is nothing new across multiple government departments and is largely the result of the need to find the “right” candidate for the post. The State Capture commission has been scathing of the ANC’s deployment fetish to find the “right” cadre and found that its meddling in state-owned entities was a wet dream for comrades. 

It is no surprise then that the presidential report mentioned the factional battles within the ANC, and the direct consequence of this on the riots. 

The ongoing collapse of covert intelligence-gathering in the country and its role in society was further demonstrated when Ramaphosa announced just a month after the riots that the SSA ministry would be done away with, and in January made Mondli Gungubele the political head of the entity, meaning control now lies firmly within the Presidency. 

This shift has been met with mixed response. 

Shortly after Ramaphosa’s announcement Moe Shaik, a former deputy coordinator of intelligence, head of ministerial services and former head of the South African Secret Service (incorporated into the SSA), said in a column that Ramaphosa’s “disbandment” of the agency was long overdue, and that “his decision correctly brings the civilian intelligence services under the required constitutional authority.

“Section 209 (1) of the Constitution requires that any intelligence service, other than the intelligence division of the defence force or police service, be established only by the president, as the head of the national executive, and only in terms of national legislation,” said Shaik. 

He said that up to the time Zuma became president, various ministers in charge of the internal and foreign intelligence services had tried to create greater powers for themselves via amendments to the controlling legislation.

Zuma, however, perfected the capture of the intelligence services.  

“To make matters worse and more complicated, in September 2009, then-president Zuma, by proclamation, created a new department, the State Security Agency (SSA), bringing together all the components of the civilian intelligence services under one departmental entity.

“This was certainly not intended by the original intelligence design that sought coordination rather than concentrating South Africa’s intelligence capability in one entity. Further, the use of a proclamation rather than the democratic parliamentary national legislation process to establish an intelligence service may have been in conflict with section 209 (1) of the Constitution.”

Shaik noted that the extra powers previous intelligence ministers had obtained included the authority to create structures, determining functions, the appointment and promotion of members, their discharge or transfer, and the issuance of directives governing the command and control of the services.

With this in mind, it is clear that the rot at the SSA can be considered generational and deeply entrenched. Again, the expert panel merely confirmed what we knew. 

The report was also scathing about the “myriad of legislation” which regulates the security cluster, stating “there is little clarity in respect of coordination, especially in the context of the gathering and supply of intelligence, and the operation of law enforcement on the strength of the intelligence”. 

The report said this disconnect was “borne out by the existence of several structures”, such as the Natjoints (National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure), Provjoints (Provincial Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure), Nicoc (National Intelligence Coordination Committee) and JCPS (Justice, Crime Prevention and Security) Cluster, and that despite the existence of so many structures, “the flow of information appears hampered.

“There is a lack of clarity about actions by the SAPS in response to the intelligence, both at national and provincial level. There also do not seem to be clear steps or protocols that the various players in the intelligence spaces (whether it be under the National Strategic Intelligence Act, the Intelligence Services Act, the SAPS Act or the Defence Act) ought to follow in order to get information to decision-makers.” 

The panel also, politely, tore a strip off the SAPS and its Crime Intelligence capacity. It had this to say about those who (allegedly) lead the police. 

“In a nutshell, the Minister [of Police, Bheki Cele] and the National Commissioner (Khehla Sitole) are poles apart in their interpretation of how the events of July could have been managed, if at all. This is a matter of concern, as it narrows the grounds for consensus within the senior leadership of the police on what needs to be corrected going forward, and of who is to be held accountable for the failure to prevent the loss of life and the destruction of property that occurred.” 

Ramaphosa’s Cabinet was not spared either, with the report finding that it should take overall responsibility for the riots. The report lists the multiple inconsistencies and ineffectual actions of various ministers. 

The panellists were compelled to make recommendations in an environment where recommendations are mostly ignored. They advised that a national early warning capability be established to ensure accurate and timely intelligence be provided to the government on an ongoing basis; that the multiplicity of intelligence coordinating structures be rationalised, and said that the country needs a more effective, streamlined and accountable intelligence capacity. 

Steps should include – and here it is necessary to point out that this would be common sense to those not hellbent on gorging on taxpayer money – suitable appointments, stopping the SSA’s brain drain of dedicated officials overlooked by inept political appointments, holding to account those responsible for irrational and illegal actions, and clarity on possibly splitting the agency into two again (foreign and internal intelligence services).   

“Thus the President should identify and implement those recommendations of the [2018] High-Level Review Panel that need urgent implementation,” according to the report. 

Why the president has failed to act on the recommendations made in the High-Level Review Panel report remains a mystery. Perhaps he is still honing his much-vaunted long game. It appears to be a very, very, very long game, and it doesn’t bode well for the recommendations made in this latest report. 

Nevertheless, the report’s expert panellists had one more thing to say about the country’s security cluster. It was noted that in February 2020 Ramaphosa signed a proclamation that formally established and set out the mandate of the National Security Council. While the NSC has been in existence since the early 2000s, not much was known about its role, functions and structure.

But Proclamation No. 13 of 2020 clarified its role and members.

According to the proclamation, the NSC consists of the president, his deputy and ministers representing the portfolios of defence, state security, police, foreign relations, home affairs, finance, cooperative governance and justice. Its purpose is to provide “a structure at the level of the National Executive responsible for ensuring the national security of the Republic of South Africa”.

It also states that the NSC is responsible  for:

  1. The approval of the National Security Strategy; 
  2. The National Intelligence Estimate and National Intelligence Priorities; 
  3. The coordination of the work of security services, law enforcement agencies and relevant organs of state to ensure national security; 
  4. Receiving coordinated, integrated intelligence assessments from the national security structures of the Republic; and 
  5. For mandating said structures to attend to matters of national security as required. 

The panel noted that it was unclear whether the proclamation was intended to formalise the establishment of the NSC as a standing body or whether the NSC will remain “as an executive edict”, effectively a non-threatening advisory body for the president.

Once again, even at the level of Cabinet, the role of a committee set up to oversee the country’s security risk has been found to be at best muddled, at worst utterly useless. DM

 

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  • “Its purpose is to provide “a structure at the level of the National Executive responsible for ensuring the national security of the Republic of South Africa”.” and what cr read was – “It must keep the anc in power at any cost”.

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