Wrestling power from old claws

2018-07-08 05:56
Arthur Fraser, Charles Nqakula, David Mahlobo, David Mabuza and Sydney Mufamadi

Arthur Fraser, Charles Nqakula, David Mahlobo, David Mabuza and Sydney Mufamadi

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The Intelligence Academy campus in the North West capital, Mafikeng, is named after Mzwandile Piliso – a former head of the ANC’s nonstatutory intelligence set-up.

Its mandate, as the State Security Agency (SSA) boldly states, is to produce “intelligence officers who not only understand South Africa’s national security paradigm, but can also carry out their duties within the values and ethical principles demanded from each officer”.

Recruitment is selective, including targeting candidates from the best universities. The standards are high and candidates go through rigorous training and write examinations to prove their mettle before they can leave Mafikeng to ply their craft.

However, evidence is that the long shadow of the ANC follows many of these young professionals from Mzwandile Piliso campus to wherever they get dispatched throughout the country.

There is much uncertainty as far as career development in the “farm” goes, and eventually some become despondent and look for opportunities elsewhere in government.

One of the biggest sources of frustration is the dominance of the so-called digrootman tsa exile or “the big men from ANC exile”. This is reference to former members of the ANC’s former department of information and security.

A name that comes up often is that of former minister Charles Nqakula, the head of Parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security.

Ironically, last month when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a high-level review panel on the state of the SSA, Nqakula was named as his special adviser on intelligence.

Word is that many of Nqakula’s peers seem to believe that “no one else should lead the agency but them”. But even worse, they jostle for power among themselves, depending on the factional layout in the ANC at that time.

So while Ramaphosa’s decision to get rid of embattled former director-general Arthur Fraser was widely commended, he is yet to deal with the crux of the problem – the stranglehold that many of his comrades have on the agency and how they continue to leverage their power for their narrow political interests.

“Whether you remove Fraser, you still face the same problem. Arthur is not the bigger problem. The problem is how you turn the farm around and make it a professional outfit that serves the country and not a party,” a concerned insider says.

It seems that the big men were upset with Fraser’s appointment by former intelligence minister David Mahlobo.

Or course, experience is critical in the intelligence environment and it should not be undervalued. The problem is when those who possess the experience become a dark shadow that blinds everyone to the Constitutional mandate of the agency.

There are many examples of the SSA veering off course to serve narrow interests. Here are some:

A top six ANC leader has mentioned obliquely how the spooks would, at night, mess with the computers of senior leaders at Luthuli House. Yes, Luthuli House is also not out of bounds. This during the time of former president Thabo Mbeki.

Insiders also tell a story of how former SSA director-general Sonto Kudjoe was apparently summoned by a certain former president to the St George Hotel in Tshwane, on the sidelines of an ANC national executive committee meeting, to explain why the ANC did relatively badly during the 2016 municipal elections when briefs from the farm were that the party was headed for an overwhelming victory.

Soon thereafter, Kudjoe – whose relationship with Mahlobo had allegedly broken down – resigned abruptly. I feel no pity for Kudjoe if indeed she had abandoned her constitutional mandate to serve Luthuli House. I hope she tells her story one day, including how it was that she could have left a long time before, but was persuaded by some senior ANC leaders to stay on.

Kudjoe’s predecessor, Jeff Maqetuka, resigned in 2013 after serving only four years. He resigned alongside Gibson Njenje, the former head of domestic intelligence, and Moe Shaik, the former head of foreign intelligence.

Shaik is a strong proponent of the view that the SSA does not need a designated minister. Under Nelson Mandela the deputy justice minister doubled as the political principal in intelligence services, guided by the overall vision to move away from state security under apartheid towards national security. Jacob Zuma changed that and even changed the name from national intelligence back to state security.

Njenje is set to make a comeback. He fired Fraser in 2010, so with the latter shifted to correctional services the path back is clear.

In the case of Mahlobo, the big men thought he was too junior to head the country’s intelligence.

Even worse, he was an unknown among those who were in the trenches in the ANC.

So Mahlobo has always been seen as an impostor parachuted in by Zuma because of the relationship he had with his old man and, of course, the influence of ANC deputy president David Mabuza. Mabuza was at the time referred to in ANC circles as the de facto intelligence minister and allegedly kept highly specialised intelligence equipment at a farm in Barberton in Mpumalanga.

Mahlobo was seen to be doing Zuma’s bidding by spying on the other factions in the ANC, which apparently led to the fallout with Kudjoe. There would be no room for those disloyal to Zuma in the agency and they had to go. An intelligence service loyal to Zuma would also be handy even after his term had ended, so that he did not become too vulnerable.

When Zuma established the SSA in 2009, he collapsed six intelligence branches under one structure, each with its own head reporting to the director-general.

Enter Fraser in 2016; he returned with a background of having being involved in the spy tapes saga that bought Zuma a get-out-of-jail card in 2009. One of his first tasks in office was to restructure the spy services, eliminating the two director-general positions – for domestic and international services. This bred resentment.

This meant that Fraser, whose post is nicknamed “Super DG”, literally became the superspy with a new layer of seven deputies who reported directly to him and 16 general managers who reported to the deputies.

Fraser then went a step further and his office was to become more powerful still. It was a power move that threatened even Mahlobo himself, especially as then Fraser had the potential to brief Zuma directly.

SSA’s spin said then that the restructuring was a product of a lengthy process of consultation that produced “a road map that will ensure a seamless organisation that is better able to respond to the challenges of the 21st century”.

It is this overconcentration of power in one office that seems to bug Ramaphosa, thus he deployed former minister Sydney Mufamadi to lead the panel to review the state of the SSA.

But the source of instability may be closer to home than Ramaphosa would be willing to admit. The best outcome Mufamadi could give South Africans is to rescue the SSA from the claws of old men who have run out of ideas and deliver it into the hands of competent young professionals with fresh ideas to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

The time has come.

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