A vital question the panel appointed to review the country’s intelligence service will have to answer is if there is an “over-concentration of authority” in the office of the State Security Agency (SSA) director general.
Former president Jacob Zuma established the SSA in 2009 by controversially collapsing six intelligence branches into one structure, each with its own head reporting to one super-powerful director-general.
ANC stalwart and academic Sydney Mufamadi will lead the panel. President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed it on Friday.
As democratic South Africa’s first police minister, Mufamadi will be alert to the magnitude of the responsibility he has been given.
There have been complaints – from politicians in the main – that the intelligence services were being abused to serve political agendas.
In some cases “people who are not in intelligence services also participate in operations”, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko said.
The only thing Mufamadi was prepared to say was that they were trying to find a date when all 10 members of the panel would break down the brief and decide how to proceed with the task.
The other panel members are former foreign intelligence service head Barry Gilder, international affairs and conflict management expert Anthoni Van Nieuwkerk, policy and governance guru Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo, former Finance Intelligence Centre head Murray Michell, lawyer Basetsana Molebatsi, peace and security researcher and academic Siphokazi Magadla, retired top cop Andre Pruis, academic and activist Jane Duncan and former intelligence services coordinator Silumko Sokupa.
Concerns that the SSA director-general had too much power came to a head last month when the inspector-general of intelligence (IGI) Setlhomamaru Dintwe turned to the courts to overturn the agency’s decision to withdraw his security clearance.
Without it he cannot get into his office. Dintwe complained that then spy boss Arthur Fraser withdrew his clearance because his office was investigating him following a complaint by the DA.
He said Fraser abused his power and revoked his clearance so that the investigation would collapse.
Fraser has denied this and counter-claimed that Dintwe was careless with state information.
Insiders this week alleged that at the time his clearance was withdrawn, Dintwe was working with disgruntled agents to bring Fraser down.
Dintwe denied the allegation, but would not confirm whether he had been in contact with a suspended SSA employee mentioned as his collaborator.
“The disclosure of the identities of persons the IGI meets is protected,” he said.
He said the law provides his office with “unlimited access to all information held by the intelligence services, which the IGI can demand from the head of a service and its employees”.
“Failure to provide information to the IGI is a punishable offence.” There was thus no need for the IGI to use “unconventional methods” to get information.
Dintwe warned that any involvement by the intelligence services in political battles would be in contravention of section 199 of the Constitution.
This stipulates that members of the security services perform their functions in a non-partisan manner.