South Africa


Former and current spooks lining up to fill Inspector-General of Intelligence hot seat

Former and current spooks lining up to fill Inspector-General of Intelligence hot seat
Illustrative image | Sources: The South African Coat of Arms (Wikimedia)

Some very dirty laundry was inevitably hung out when the third candidate, Faith Makhobotloane, was peppered with questions about the South African Revenue Service ‘rogue unit report’ and her role and exact whereabouts when this all went down in 2014.

A number of former and current State Security Agency (SSA) agents, some trained in Russia, others who have worked closely with ANC ministers over the years, were quizzed on Wednesday about their suitability to oversee intelligence services as well as their capacity for impartiality, during interviews to select South Africa’s next Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI).

Some very dirty laundry was inevitably hung out when the third candidate, Faith Makhobotloane, was peppered with questions about the South African Revenue Service (SARS) “rogue unit report” and her role and exact whereabouts when this all went down in 2014.

Like advocate Jay Govender, who was interviewed on Tuesday by the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI), Makhobotloane has served under three IG “administrations”, including that of the late Faith Radebe – author of the “rogue unit” report, which was discredited and set aside by the courts in 2020.

Makhobotloane revealed that in that instance there had been “external influences”, with mounds of evidence supplied by SARS executive Johann van Loggerenberg, simply disregarded and “lost”.

The SARS investigation, the former SSA operative revealed, had been conducted by “a select group” and had been guided “by the beliefs of the people driving the investigation”.

Known as the “classified 2014 Radebe Report”, its “findings” and “recommendations” were weaponised for years against Pravin Gordhan and other SARS officials ruthlessly targeted as Tom Moyane began his term of office at the institution.

Earlier, Nyelisani Clarence Tshitereke, with an impressive academic track record including studying for a PhD while teaching and working his way through the former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) as well as the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (Nicoc), was the second applicant to be grilled.

Ten candidates hoping to fill the crucial oversight position are being screened this week by the JSCI. The current incumbent, Setlhomamaru Dintwe, will leave the office at the end of March. He is included in the list of interviewees.

Tshitereke told the committee that applying for the job was “a national call of duty” and it was his vision to professionalise the office and the services.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi got in early, quizzing Tshitereke on his career timeline which included working for Essop Pahad (minister in the Presidency 1999 to 2008), Lindiwe Sisulu (minister of housing at the time) and Susan Shabangu (former minister of women in the Presidency and later minister of social development.)

“You worked for a lot of women, a lot of ministers, but before then you went to the NIA. This is a bit confusing for me. Did you get your PhD while lecturing?” asked Ndlozi.

Tshitereke is currently executive director of Muthu Consultants and, according to his CV, has worked as a “research consultant on mining and social issues” as well as studying “the relevance of coal to South Africa’s energy needs against rising pre-eminence of alternative renewable sources”.

Ndlozi said Tshitereke’s time as a “senior analyst” had overlapped with his student years between July 2004 and July 2005 and this while he taught at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.

Tshitereke explained his studies had been full-time “and at that time I took a position at the NIA. I had already done three and a half years of the PhD”. He left Canada with an incomplete degree.

“It was too cold for me,” he offered the committee.

“When the NIA employed me in June 2004 I would have left for a period of four months,” said Tshitereke.

Ndlozi wanted to know whether Tshitereke had taught while employed as a senior agent and whether he had received dual salaries. To which Tshitereke replied that the payment from Queen’s could hardly be viewed as a salary and was rather “a stipend”.

After his stint in the NIA, Tshitereke was recruited to head the Old Mutual Foundation. His job there, he said, was to “look after” community projects and he had mobilised R250-million in funding for educational projects.

“I was doing work with the department of housing, a programme through which staff members were building houses at Old Mutual. We built a number of houses for beneficiaries. These were built in partnership with [the] Department of Housing,” he said.

Ndlozi said that ANC heavyweight Joel Netshitenzhe had been listed by  Tshitereke as a referee and that he seemed “politically connected”.

This was, replied Tshitereke, nothing to be concerned about, just experience gained.

Makhobotloane then followed Tshitereke’s appearance before the committee.

An astute intelligence insider, trained as a teacher and formerly a member of the Cabinet secretariat office of the president, she has performed “stints” as the personal assistant to the then deputy minister of intelligence Joe Nhlanhla, as well as in the Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry.

Her career has seen a loop from working for the country’s “early warning centre” within Nicoc, as a review officer at the office of the IGI, then in counterintelligence with SSA and then finally back at the IGI’s office as its current head of management services.

Ndlozi said to Makhobotloane: “You were trained in Russia in 2011.” 

Makhobotloane: “The course was called ‘management of counterintelligence’. I was a manager of counterintelligence at the time. It was about that.”

Members of the SSA and Crime Intelligence had attended the training, she said, adding that “the Russians” had a way of doing things that she found unsettling.

She said she felt at times that rather than attending a course, the South Africans were being “surveilled” by their Russian instructors.

Ndlozi asked the question everyone was thinking at this point.

“Why should we, under the circumstances with the serious lack of confidence in the intelligence services, appoint people who are either in the NIA, or SSA, people who have been working already in an environment? Is this not just recycling?”

To which Makhobotloane replied that there was a difference between intelligence “as a tradecraft” and the function of the oversight of intelligence.

She opined that what was uppermost “in the minds of the public” was the more cloak-and-dagger, empty-the-secret-fund “tradecraft” that so dominated headlines. 

But there was another level: those tasked with oversight of the spooks who, until recently, had deep, unaccountable pockets. Oversight provided assurance to the public that South Africa’s “national interests” would be protected.

“I believe that we need someone from inside, from within the intelligence environment to conduct oversight more competently,” she finally answered Ndlozi.

She said an insider would know where the problems were, “know where they cut corners… it is in the eating of the pudding that you learn how to handle these things”.

Dintwe, testifying at the Zondo Commission in April 2021, set out how former state security minister Bongani Bongo and SSA director-general Arthur Fraser had allegedly tried to neutralise the power of his office.

Asked whether she had been aware of what had gone down over at the SSA with its off-the-books Principal Agent Network (PAN) found to have operated a parallel intelligence structure serving the private and political interests of Jacob Zuma, she replied she had not.

“I knew nothing. It is ironic, yes, but they were good spies. They kept it under wraps,” she explained.

This working in silos was one of the major obstacles in the intelligence landscape, she told the committee and indeed it was a pressing issue all candidates so far have raised.

This is particularly apt in light of the expert panel report into the July 2021 failed insurrection that highlighted this disconnect between ministries, departments and the National Command Centre.

Makhobotloane told the committee that during Radebe’s tenure, relationships with the SSA were excellent. Radebe, an intelligence insider, served from 2010 to 2015.

“You requested something, you got it. I am talking about the SSA. We ran out of funds. They supplemented the budget… then she [Radebe] leaves,” Makhobotloane said.

During 22 months between 2015 and 2017, when Dintwe was appointed, there was, conveniently, no oversight of the intelligence agencies. 

At first, after Dintwe took office “everything was okay”, she recalled.

At that point, she had been appointed as the coordinator between a “nodal point” office at the IGI and a person in SSA. Suddenly, said Makhobotloane, requests from the IGI began to be met with frosty responses from the SSA.

Dintwe, testifying at the Zondo Commission in April 2021, set out how former state security minister Bongani Bongo and SSA director-general Arthur Fraser had allegedly tried to neutralise the power of his office.

The attacks had started, testified Dintwe, almost as soon as Bongo had been appointed in October 2017.

Asked whether she would have testified to the commission, as Dintwe had done and in the face of fierce resistance from the then minister of state security, Ayanda Dlodlo, and others, Makhobotloane said she would have done so, but on “a closed platform”.

Next up was Mampogoane Petrus Nchabeleng, a speaker of elementary Mandarin and French and currently registered for an attorney’s admission examination with the Legal Practice Council.

His day job is as the principal officer of oversight with the IGI.

Before this, he had worked as a part-time tutor in law studies at Unisa, as a manager of employment relations in the NIA, and as the divisional head of labour relations at the NIA.

From 1994 to 1995 Nchabeleng was a legal adviser to the ANC.

He said his understanding was that there was a vast difference between national and state security.

“As drafted in evocative language, national security shall reflect the resolve of South Africans, both individually and collectively, to work for peace and to ensure development and also… to work for a better life.”

State security, however, said Nchabeleng, was “subsumed” in part by national security. State security, he said, had to do with the integrity of the state.

“It deals with the ability of a state to ensure its survival and subsistence, including law and order. The concept of national security has moved away from the bipolar concept of the Cold War. It now also involves addressing poverty.”

Ndlozi prodded Nchabeleng to recall instances of corruption he had reported, “when you came across it”.

Nchabeleng responded that he had done so “many times”, not to the committee and also not “as an individual”, but in his capacity as an internal investigator with the NIA.

“I reported it to the director-general,” he replied.

“But no one else?” asked Ndlozi, to which Nchabeleng replied in the negative. DM


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