President Ramaphosa likely to be called in to quell crippling conflict in South Africa’s intelligence services
South Africa’s top intelligence chiefs are engaged in a high-stakes war with State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, a stand-off President Cyril Ramaphosa will most likely be drawn into to mediate.
City Press has learnt that, for months now, there have been deep tensions between Dlodlo on the one hand, and State Security Agency (SSA) acting director-general Loyiso Jafta and head of the domestic branch of the SSA Mahlodi Muofhe on the other.
Both officials are said to be close to the president.
It is understood that there have even been calls by allies of the two men for Dlodlo to be removed.
The conflict and disagreements taking place behind closed doors regarding how the intelligence agencies are run and what kind of powers the minister has came out into the open during a spate of violent xenophobic attacks last month, with Dlodlo expressing frustration over the seeming inability of the SSA to get to grips with what was happening on the ground.
City Press has seen explosive letters in which Dlodlo writes to Muofhe demanding explanations and plans to obviate situations such as the xenophobic attacks.
But Dlodlo received an equally stinging response from Muofhe, who boasted that the intelligence sector had excelled, and that Ramaphosa and Police Minister Bheki Cele had praised the work of the SSA.
Repeatedly referring to Ramaphosa as “His Excellency”, he pointed out that the president had attributed his responses to the violence to the guidance given by the SSA.
Twelve people died and 639 people were arrested during the xenophobic unrest, which began in Pretoria and made its way into Johannesburg’s city centre.
The violence led to the censure of South Africa by a number of African countries, as well as the refusal by Zambia and Madagascar to honour invitations to play Bafana Bafana.
At the time, crime intelligence services came under scrutiny, with questions being asked about why they had been unable to detect the undercurrent of violence beforehand and help stop the unrest once it was under way.
South Africans asked whether the country had any intelligence services at all.
Then police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo described the violence as “spontaneous” and said that “it stemmed from a flat that was burnt by a jealous lover”.
He said the attackers were “opportunistic criminals”.
When asked about the failure to act on the intelligence provided on the attacks, Naidoo said: “Intelligence is classified and privileged information that I am not prepared to discuss publicly.”
In a letter to Muofhe on September 18, Dlodlo wrote: “The current socioeconomic instability has brought both domestic and international attention to us as the country and to our role in the service. To date I have received few reports outlining what has actually transpired and not assisting government in making sound policy decisions ... I have not received any tangible plan and improvement of product strategy to ensure that we timeously detect, analyse and disseminate actionable intelligence to the client and to other stakeholders.”
Dlodlo asked to be presented with an engagement strategy on how best to address the issue.
“The strategy should ensure that intelligence is at the centre of forewarning and in assisting government to take right policy positions.”
Two days later, Muofhe hit back in a strong letter to Dlodlo, defending his work.
“Since I assumed responsibility as director of the domestic branch, shortcomings identified were attended to and addressed on a continuous basis. The products received thus far have assisted government to arrest some volatile situations, which would have been worse had it not been for the timely intervention of the intelligence services. This is also borne by the fact that the minister of police, Mr Bheki Cele, publicly thanked the intelligence services. He indicated that the SA Police Service interventions were successful due to cooperation with the intelligence.”
It was in the same letter that Muofhe referred to his refusal to intercept communication of a target as directed by the minister without the approval of a judge.
News24 has published details of the dispute between Muofhe and Dlodlo.
The minister has denied that she issued such an instruction, but those close to her argue that, under section 7 of the Rica Act, interceptions on an emergency basis are allowed, and the worsening violence would merit the invocation of such powers.
City Press understands that Muofhe’s boasts about praise from the president have created the impression that he wields far more influence than the minister.
Talk in intelligence circles is that if the conflict is not contained, Ramaphosa would move to remove the minister rather than Muofhe, who was handpicked by the president for the position.
Muofhe, an advocate, was a key player in the CR17 campaign that led to Ramaphosa winning the ANC presidency.
Muofhe was previously chief governance officer for the Special Investigating Unit and had recently occupied a position as adviser to Dlodlo’s predecessor, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba.
Jafta is a veteran of the intelligence services.
City Press has learnt that if mediation fails, Ramaphosa may have to choose between a minister he appointed and who has clout in the ANC and military veteran circles, and a director-general who is his close ally, and his eyes and ears on “the farm”, as the intelligence headquarters is known.
Aside from the dispute over how intelligence related to the xenophobic attacks was handled, City Press understands that there is also growing conflict over the restructuring taking place inside the agency.
Because of the constant changing of the guard at the helm – particularly during Jacob Zuma’s presidency – many senior operatives have been “displaced”.
This refers to officials from whom responsibility has been removed, but who continue to earn salaries without any new responsibilities.
This has necessitated a restructuring, but City Press has learnt that the minister and her senior officials do not see eye to eye on the process. The restructuring has created deep tension in the service.
Due to start at the beginning of this month, the restructuring is now on hold because of the ongoing conflict.
Muofhe told Dlodlo in the letter that, if she was not happy with the performance, she would be advised to go to the inspector-general of intelligence for investigation.
In terms of the Intelligence Services Oversight Act, the inspector-general monitors compliance and exercises oversight over the SSA.
Dlodlo’s spokesperson, Mava Scott, warned City Press that it was not supposed to be in possession of the information.
“It is illegal to have that information. Whoever gave you that information has breached security. It is a crime. We are going to take steps to correct that.”
He refused to take questions or to comment on the merits of the story.
TALK TO US
How do you feel about the state’s security sector being in apparent disarray?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword SECURITY and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50. By participating, you agree to receive occasional marketing material