South Africa


Appointment of Thembisile Majola as State Security Agency chief is a ‘political ploy from the Zuma era’, says DA

Appointment of Thembisile Majola as State Security Agency chief is a ‘political ploy from the Zuma era’, says DA
Newly appointed Director-General of the State Security Agency Thembisile Majola. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)

From Botswana, Zambia, Angola, Cuba and Switzerland, as well as from Mbeki to Zuma and Ramaphosa, the new State Security Agency Director-General Thembisile Majola knows the ANC inside out.

The newly appointed director-general of the State Security Agency (SSA),  Thembisile Cheryl Majola, belongs to a generation of ANC cadres who spent much of their lives on an external mission during the early 1970s.

With an institutional memory that stretches back to the then liberation movement’s camps in Angola, where she received her military training, Majola’s blood runs black, green and gold.

Which is why the DA’s shadow minister of state security, Dianne Kohler Barnard, let rip after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement this week that Majola would be appointed as director-general (DG) of the SSA – a grand site of State Capture under the former DG Arthur Fraser.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment of former deputy energy minister and ambassador Thembisile Majola as director-general of the State Security Agency is a political ploy straight from the Jacob Zuma era of ANC politics,” said Kohler Barnard.

She added that in appointing Majola, Ramaphosa “completely ignored the findings of the High-Level Review Panel on the SSA”, which concluded that the politicisation and factionalism in the SSA had resulted in the agency serving the personal and political interests of “particular individuals”.

“We believe the DG of SSA should not be a deployed cadre serving certain factions within the ANC. It must rather be a position filled by a career person within the intelligence community with no public political association, who will put the interests of the country and its citizens above the interests of the self-seeking ANC,” said Kohler Barnard.

It was during her time as ambassador to Senegal, Mauritania (between 2006 and 2008), Cape Verde, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, that she met and married Umaro Sissoco Embaló, the current president of Guinea-Bissau. The couple divorced in 2014 when Majola was appointed deputy minister of energy.

Majola, who speaks Setswana, Spanish and English, spent a year at the Caculama Military Training Camp in Angola between 1987 and 1988 before going on to work at an irrigation project in Luanda.

A civil engineer by training and a graduate of the University of Camagüey, Cuba, she was born in Soweto and received her primary and secondary education in Francistown, Botswana; Zambia (1971-1975) and Cuba. 

She received her tertiary education in Zambia (1976-1978) and also in Cuba (1979-1981).

Between 1986 and 1987 Majola was the project and site engineer at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania, an education facility aimed at providing a primary and secondary education to scores of young South Africans who fled South Africa in 1976.

Established by the ANC in 1978 on land donated by the Tanzanian government, the college was named after Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu who was hanged in Pretoria Central Prison for his participation in the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe. 

He was executed in 1979 after several refusals to appeal his death sentence on charges of murder and terrorism.

In 1990 Majola returned to South Africa where she worked as treasurer of a “Women’s Task Force” responsible for preparing the launch of the ANC Women’s League. At the same time, she worked as a project engineer for the Rural Advice Centre in the then Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo).

After this, she was appointed executive secretary of the Women and Development Programme of the World Council of Churches, where she was based for four years in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1997 she became a consultant at the Development Bank of Southern Africa on the Coega Special Development initiative as well as chief director of international relations and trade in the Office of the Deputy President (1997-2001).

During Thabo Mbeki’s term as President, between 2001 and 2005, she was deputy director-general in the Presidency’s Presidential Support Unit.

After her 2006 appointment as ambassador, Majola was viewed as an “omnipresent colleague” in the diplomatic communities of Cape Verde, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a woman who “quickly made her place among her fellow ambassadors and established strong relationships with Senegalese officials”, said an official at her farewell.

In 2009 Majola was appointed deputy coordinator for core business at the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee before becoming a consultant in the Office of the Premier of Gauteng in 2010.

Between 2010 and 2013, she was the market development manager for Africa at Aurecon, an engineering and design management company. In 2013 she became a director at Thenoma Consulting in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

In 2014 she was appointed by the then president Jacob Zuma as the deputy minister of energy. She resigned in 2018, citing personal reasons.

Throughout her youth and career, Majola actively participated in the affairs of the “ANC women’s movement” including as an Angolan region delegate at the 1987 ANC Women’s Section Conference in Luanda, Angola; as secretary of the ANC Women’s Section in Angola between 1987 and 1989; was on the Malibongwe Conference Committee between 1989 and 1990 and was a member of the ANC Women’s Task Force between 1990 and 1991. DM


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