Another partisan appointment

2009-10-13 00:00

RECENT appointments in the intelligence service raised the question of whether President Jacob Zuma is surrounding himself with loyalists.

There’s not much point in arguing with the facts, so let’s move on to the next question. How will this affect South Africa’s security?

Earlier this month, Zuma announced the appointment of Riaz (Moe) Shaik as the head of the South African Secret Service (SASS), responsible for foreign intelligence.

Having served as the director of the European Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Co-ordinator of the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee, as well as being in the diplomatic service, Shaik appears to have the experience and the contacts.

He is certainly a man with a backup plan. For the ANC, he was involved in Operation Vula to set up Umkhonto we Sizwe underground cells in case the negotiations failed. For himself, he obtained a masters degree in optometry. Things seem to have worked out in both cases — South Africa attained democracy instead of bloodshed and Shaik is the head of the Secret Service instead of an optometrist.

The problem is that Shaik’s appointment is a partisan one. It is another strategic move by Zuma to bring the intelligence community wholly into his camp, as Shaik and Zuma are long- time friends and comrades.

As part of the shake-up of the intelligence services, the State Security Agency (SSA) has been created as an overarching body of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the SASS. Jeff Maqetuka has been appointed director-general of the agency and has stated that he intends “chopping the heads” of operatives who leak sensitive information and engage in unauthorised interception of communications.

To most, that would sound like bad news for Lizo Njenje, the new head of the NIA, who was fired by the former president for unauthorised surveillance. But Maqetuka has vowed to prevent intelligence services from becoming involved in politics. That should come as bad news to Shaik, who previously used intelligence structures to defend Zuma.

But the reality is that the loyalties of Maqetuka, Shaik and Njenje are firmly with Zuma. So when Zuma announces to police station commanders that warning shots should be done away with in favour of immediately shooting suspects who draw a firearm, it should come as no surprise that the heads of the SSA, SASS and NIA all back him.

Nonsensically, the Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, insists that Zuma is not surrounding himself with loyalists. Cwele believes we should move away from politicising intelligence — a sensible proposal. But it was not sensible for the country’s executive to encourage police officers to forgo firing warning shots before legislation is amended to protect officers who do so. Officers are vulnerable to court action if they follow the president’s advice.

It was not sensible for a newly appointed national police commissioner to popularise a “shoot to kill” strategy without engaging in debate on how this policy usually affects criminality. The SAPS crime report for 2008 states that “when the police start implementing a new strategy, criminals will endeavour to adapt to the new circumstances”.

And what about police officers’ capacity to assess a situation in an instant and become judge and executioner? This is not about the rights of criminals; it is about the training and discipline of police officers. There have been well-documented incidents internationally where unarmed suspects have been shot dead because officers thought they saw a firearm.

One only need hypothesise to see how incredibly skilled officers will need to be to avoid tragedy. Consider an officer responding to a residential burglary in progress. The homeowner has a firearm and the burglar has a firearm; in a split second, will the officer distinguish who he will shoot? One could also question the ideological basis of the shoot-to-kill argument. Is it accurate that whenever a suspect draws a firearm he intends to shoot? Might he not be using it to force co-operation?

There are lots of firearms out there. Once legislation changes, if you own a firearm you increase your risk of being shot; by a criminal or a police officer. And how can we prevent corrupt officers from eliminating their enemies by planting a firearm on them after the fact?

These are tough questions which politicians will not be quick to ask, because they don’t make for good sound bites.

Career policemen would ask. Security analysts would ask. Intelligence experts would ask. And that is exactly why politicians and security services personnel should not be old buddies with partisan interests, questionable connections or blind loyalty.

• V. B. Ndlovu is a member of parliament and the IFP spokesperson on police.

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