Opinionista Arthur Fraser 18 February 2021

State Security: Journalists must get all sides of the story

It is incorrect to argue for a particular ideal, in this case the dissolution of the State Security Agency, without listening to all the role players in the matter.

An analysis piece by Ferial Haffajee on 2 February 2021 headlined, “State Security Agency Debate: Who says we need an intelligence service?” is not only disturbing, but questions the moral fabric of journalistic practice in South Africa.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector and Organs of State (the commission) is ongoing as a number of people have appeared before the commission, and there is still a reasonable number yet to appear.

It is thus shocking when a seasoned journalist like Haffajee makes a finding without even listening to all role players in the matter and proceeds to propagate what should be ideal for South Africa.

Most disquieting and nonsensical is a conclusion, without providing any facts, that the State Security Agency (SSA) has not predicted or prevented any risk throughout the democratic era. Does this mean that the SSA was only effective during the apartheid era?

Haffajee can seek a pager on how the SSA (formerly the National Intelligence Agency) dealt with the taxi violence and Pagad, to name but two. Questioning the need for, or existence of, state security is the lowest point of argument that any patriotic South African can contend.

An analysis strictly looking at three directors-general (DGs) of the SSA is on its own problematic. The credibility test and relevance of such an analysis must thus be questioned. Why so?

The SSA continues to function in a democratic South Africa and in the past decade it has (outside of acting appointments) had no fewer than eight (8) “Super DGs” and directors, such as Mzuvukile Jeff Maqetuka, together with directors Lizo Gibson Njenje and Riaz (Mo) Shaik, Sonto Kudjoe, together with Simon Ntombela (succeeded by Dr Bheki Langa) and Batandwa Siswana, and now me, Arthur Fraser.

More intriguing is an assertion that the commission revealed corruption that has robbed the fiscus of at least R10-billion in a single financial year. Those who follow the commission will know that the figure mentioned on record was R9-billion and this has been disputed, as the net asset value for the SSA is nowhere near R9-billion.

The lawyers representing myself and others also read this into the record. So, how did Haffajee arrive at R10-billion?

In addition to this fact, a media statement was issued by myself questioning such, and opening perjury charges against Sydney Mufamadi, acting DG Loyiso Jafta, “Mr Y” and “Ms K”, including subornation of perjury charges against commission evidence leaders.

For Haffajee to omit this detail in her analysis (as this information was already in the public domain) can only suggest a resolve to frame a specific narrative, and acting contrary to the Press Code, as there was no interest in appreciating views from all angles, but perhaps the intention to project some individuals as “rogue”.

The analysis piece is definitely narrow and can only magnify a particular view (without any form of evidence) in labelling particular individuals in a negative light.

Astonishingly, statements by some witnesses have been accepted by the writer as evidence and, as such, cannot be recognised in a normal society, where evidence is defined to be proof that must be legally presented and allowed by the judge.

Evidence must survive objections by opposing attorneys that it is irrelevant, immaterial or violates rules against “hearsay” (statements by a party not in court), and/or other technicalities. It is thus not pleasant to observe such tactics being used by some who we consider to be seasoned journalists, as we all know how Stratcom demonised certain individuals by coining certain narratives with no intention of reporting truthfully.

Daily Maverick ought to exercise due diligence in its platform if it is to position itself as a credible platform for news dissemination and engagement.

The Press Council in South Africa advocates ethical journalism, so do ordinary citizens. It is acceptable that journalists cannot always guarantee “the truth” — however, getting the facts is what defines the cardinal principle of journalism.

When activities or items are carefully selected to intentionally argue for the dissolution of the SSA, and go further to carefully identify some individuals as principal role players, in this instance, Maruti Nosi, Arthur Fraser and Thulani Dlomo, this cannot be accepted as a normal journalistic practice. But it is a tactic aimed at destroying their characters and magnifying them as excavators of democratic institutions for their selfish gain.

The image used in the analysis article leaves much to be desired. The coat of arms under a magnifier, with the face of Mr Arthur Fraser as the central front image (when, in fact, he was the SSA DG for only 16 months), former president Jacob Zuma and Atul Gupta at the back , can loosely be interpreted as a transaction being facilitated through a R20 note.

This image further creates a perception of a corrupt relationship between the three individuals, which is unsubstantiated. Can this truly be classified as an analysis piece, or is it rather a statement of influence?

South Africa deserves accurate reporting, as enshrined in our Constitution. Relevant facts must be put on the table and when journalists are unable to corroborate information, they must say so.

Media freedom is embedded in responsible journalism and this should drive fairness and impartiality.  Such freedom must never be abused by those who act as a chameleon for “other” interests. DM

Arthur Fraser is the National Commissioner of Correctional Services. He was a director-general in the State Security Agency.

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All Comments 18

  • What self-serving piffle from one of the very serious and dangerous bottom-feeders in our country, and clear further evidence, if further evidence is needed, that indeed our dark and very murky and dangerous swamp indeed needs thoroughly draining, with the clear warning stated in the last paragraph to media freedom and journalism being particularly odious and self-serving; shades of very dark Stalinist, control society at all costs, intent.

  • Whilst I do not wish to comment on THIS comment/opinion by Mr. Fraser, and the one written by Ms. Haffajee, he is right about one thing: The comments/opinions by some “experts” on media platforms, including Daily Maverick, are sometimes outrageous, and leaves a lot to be questioned. But that applies to virtually all media, in particular the comments by so-called anchors on TV News stations, radio stations, newspapers, on-line news media, and the like. And it also include comments/opinions by readers, viewers and listeners commenting on the original “opinion”, including myself, and this very comment. It also apply to media all over the world. And it also apply to this very opinion of Mr. Fraser. But that exactly is the difference between a democracy, and a socialist/communist country, like China, Cuba, Russia and North Korea, where free speech is not tolerated. I doubt if a news medium like DM will survive without comments/opinions from readers, viewers or listeners. But here’s the thing: The news media that do practise a strong sense of editorial quality are more likely to succeed, hence the importance of the news editor

  • Come clean, Fraser! You have this opportunity and use it wisely. There is no doubt that the odious zuma repurposed the SSA for his own nefarious needs as he did with SARS, SOE’s etc. You were very much a part of it. Serve the best interests of this country, for once, and try and redeem yourself instead of obfuscating.

  • A lesson in revolutionary accounting or revolutionary ‘rithmetic?:
    ‘… and this has been disputed, as the net asset value for the SSA is nowhere near R9-billion.’
    NAV is what’s left after one expenses or steals from the funding provided; it doesn’t cap what is expensed or stolen.

  • The driving objective of the written word is to impart knowledge and share experience.
    The dominant sales method used to sell this knowledge is based on the emotion hysteria! “Did you hear” and “have you read” are phrases designed to pique interest and draw attention! This leads to exaggeration and misinterpretation.
    In the two articles both writers call to arms examples and points of dispute, each designed to support their viewpoint. In both cases they may be correct, or guilty of slant. It is the responsibility of the reader to choose which version best fits with other knowledge and experience related to the matter.
    This is press freedom at its best, even though the methodology may be suspect?

  • R9-billion? R10-billion? It does not matter as such figures often get rounded up for easier digestion. It often gets accompanied by the word ‘almost’.
    Mr Fraser has expressed his opinion and it is fantastic that there is a forum for him to be able to do so. He can also continue to give the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth if it bothers him so much that journalists should do the same. All security agencies around the world are forever hiding so-called state secrets in the interest of protecting the state. Bla-bla. All this is not helping the cause of democracy where citizens need all facts to make an informed decision when required to vote. It goes without saying that security agencies’ policy of hiding things are not promoting the democratic cause. The result is easy to understand. No transparency equals no public trust and no credibility in organisations such as the SSA. It is a no-brainer.

  • It’s ironic and revealing of a deep-seated hypocrisy that Fraser does the very thing of which he accuses Haffajee, namely put forward statements without any substantiation. Still, in Haffajee’s case, most of the contentions she advanced are objectively verifiable, at least in principle. In Fraser’s diatribe, he blasts the reader with en echelon denials and deflections taken straight from the Zuma / Magashule / Malema RET playbook. Or maybe Fraser taught them.

  • Duarte on herself, then Fraser on the SSA, … I can’t wait for Magshule’s OpEd next week explaining how a tea party is actually an ironic anti-colonial strategy to undermine White Monopoly Capital! The DM is starting to look like the ANC Today dashboard. Never mind, let them print; more rope, I say!

  • Coming out with all guns blazing, old tactic of the rotten. And this one has all the lingo lined up. So expect agendas, foreign forces, hate campaigns, the full menu. In stead of kicking up as much mud and foam as possible, just tell us, as a start, how many of your family became well paid “agents” and how well they were equipped with houses and fast cars.

  • A leading trait of a sociopath is to never take responsibility for their actions and to indulge in a narrative that frames them as the victim or hero, and puts the blame on outside forces. They are often weak and insecure characters who crave power to make up for their deficiencies. They invariably believe the internal narrative they concoct for themselves to escape the moral conflicts that result from their actions. They are so afraid of being judged that they deem themselves above approach.

    Sorry, what was this article about again? I must be in the wrong place. Nevermind.

  • Congratulations, Arthur, on those sterling successes with Pagad and the taxi wars back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Anything from the last 15 years you care to share with us?

    I’ll wait.

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