Defend Truth


Intelligence Bill before Parliament will give State Security Agency ominous powers


Anton Harber is executive director of the Campaign for Free Expression.

There is a deeply ingrained culture and practice of illegal interference in politics and civic life at the State Security Agency. Instead of containing this, the new General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill allows for more of it.

The State Security Agency (SSA) is making a stealthy bid to expand its powers, allowing it to stick its nose into all manner of political and private activities.

Its vehicle is the new General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, currently being pushed hurriedly through Parliament. 

The Bill is intended to reform the agency, following the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture and the earlier Mufamadi High-Level Review Panel, both of which exposed the role the agency had played in State Capture and which recommended major reforms.

In addition, the Bill was intended to introduce measures ordered by the Constitutional Court, which declared that some elements of the previous Act did not protect civilians sufficiently, and lacked oversight and accountability.

The new Bill introduces one welcome reform: splitting the agency into two arms – one dealing with internal issues and the other with foreign. 

But hidden behind that are small changes in words and phrases which would enable the agency to intrude into our national politics and our privacy, still without adequate oversight and accountability.

One does not have to imagine the danger of the agency going beyond its brief. 

The SSA itself placed before the Zondo Commission what became known as its “Boast Report” because of how it so proudly spoke of illegal activities as “achievements”. Zondo summarised it:

“ The Report… shows, among others, that there was an operation to impede the distribution of the C17 (Ramaphosa election campaign) regalia, the transportation from Gauteng of groups apparently in support of the C17 campaign; [efforts] to ensure cancellation of the President’s visit to America; infiltration of the Zuma Must Fall campaign; dissemination of misinformation to supporters of the campaign; media campaigns; general infiltration of groups considered hostile; infiltration of trade unions which results in minimal support for those campaigns; active monitoring of some NGOs …”

Keep in mind that top agency personnel might have changed, but the rest of the spy team remains largely the same people, and there is therefore a deeply ingrained culture and practice of illegal interference in politics and civic life. Instead of containing this, the new Bill allows for more of it.

One must also remember that the agency was so busy with this kind of dubious activity that it failed dismally in other key areas, such as in dealing with the July 2021 KZN uprising.

A state security agency that is doing what it shouldn’t and not doing what it should is a serious threat to democracy and society. 

The agency that is meant to deal with threats to our security is, in fact, one of our biggest national threats.

I will highlight just some ways in which the Bill allows this.

For one thing, it broadens the definition of national security in such a way that it would widen the agency’s scope of activity beyond what is normally the purview of a state security agency. 

It is entitled to act not just on “threats and potential threats”, but on “opportunities” and “potential opportunities”, many of which may have little to do with national security.

It expands the power of the agency to do security vetting. Instead of being limited to those who need access to state secrets, which is the international norm, it is empowered to vet any person or institution of “national security interest”.

Given the wide definition of national security and the fact that they are themselves able to decide who falls within this net, this will allow them to interfere wherever they like.

They showed their intentions when in the first draft of the Bill, they said that all new NGOs and religious bodies would be subject to vetting, though this explicit threat was removed after an outcry. They did not, however, relinquish the power to do so. They just disguised it.

Vetting is a major intrusion into privacy, and it has in the past been used to harass people and organisations. 

Just one example: the agency withdrew the security clearance for the Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI) when they didn’t like what he was doing. This meant he could no longer keep an eye on what they were doing.

The Bill allows for bulk interception of our digital communications. This is a massive power, potentially subjecting every citizen to covert surveillance, and there are some who question whether it has any place in a democracy.

The agency has done this kind of surveillance in the past, but the Constitutional Court put a stop to it as they said there was no law that empowered them to do it. 

The new law will allow for it, but it fails to put in place sufficient rules and controls to ensure it is not abused. Without such controls, you can be sure you will be spied on.

The Bill also does not deal with the gaps in oversight of the agency. 

The key bodies which are meant to hold the agency to account are the IGI and Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI). Both these bodies failed to fill this role when the agency was overstepping during the era of State Capture, mainly because they lacked the powers, information and sometimes the will to do so.

The IGI’s office is under the administrative and budget control of the very people they are meant to be keeping an eye on, so its hands are tied. 

A majority of JSCI members are under the ruling party whip, meaning that their jobs depend on not disrupting the politically powerful.

The new Bill does not enhance their independence, authority or access to the information they need to keep the agency in line.

The Bill’s journey through Parliament in the next few weeks will test the willingness and capacity of our MPs to tackle a major institution of State Capture, and put in place measures to ensure it is prevented from threatening our democracy again.

It will also test the value of public consultation. 

The JSCI has toured the country to listen to what people have to say about the Bill and their call for comment has, according to, resulted in more than 23,222 responses, of which 23,137 called for it to be scrapped or changed.

Will Parliament pay attention to this overwhelming rejection of the Bill? 

Will they heed what two government investigations and the Constitutional Court have said?

This is a testing moment for democracy. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    This bill must be scrapped or at least radically revised. I think there would be more value in an “intelligence bill” that requires a demonstrable level of general intelligence as a prerequisite for appointment in any government or other state funded entity.

  • Walter Spatula says:

    I am confident that, as always, the ANC will do the wrong thing

  • Con Tester says:

    Despite an overwhelming response to GILAB in the negative via the Dear South Africa portal, and despite the fact that each of those submissions must be counted individually (unlike with a petition which is a single submission, regardless how many signatures it contains), you can be sure that the bill will be passed because the ANC bigwigs want it.

    They will simply dismiss those negative responses by the simple expedient of saying that it’s by a tiny portion of SA’s population.

    Fortunately, the bill is wide open to challenge on Constitutional grounds, and will almost certainly, if not in its entirety, have significant parts struck down when, not if, it is brought before the ConCourt for review.

  • Dr Know says:

    Why do we still have a SSA? If they evaporated tomorrow would we miss them at all? By all accounts they are the very people we should be protected from. Scrap the lot and use the savings to do something good, like flushing toilets at schools.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted