Robert McBride is suspended following the bungled Mozambique operation

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Robert McBride. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Netwerk24
Robert McBride. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Netwerk24


Robert McBride’s suspension on Thursday, as the head of the foreign branch in the State Security Agency (SSA), comes as no surprise on the back of a diplomatic embarrassment earlier this year when South African spies ended up stranded during a failed operation that targeted Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

City Press reported last weekend that four South African spooks had been caught and left stranded for nine days in Maputo in Mozambique, following a failed SSA operation targeting insurgents in Cabo Delgado at the height of the terrorist attacks earlier this year.

McBride is unlikely to go down without a fight, as he had done previously in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, when he was the metro police chief and at the Independent Police Investigative Directorate when he squared off with the likes of former Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation head Berning Ntlemeza, former national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane and former police minister Nathi Nhleko.

On both occasions, he was suspended before he was released from duty.

In the SSA, McBride had already lost the support of State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, who was responsible for bringing him to the agency on a three-year contract ending in June 2023.

Even though Dlodlo and McBride have a long history of camaraderie, City Press learnt that the minister had reached a point where she could not tolerate his mistakes.

READ: SA spies bust in Mozambique

To ensure that McBride was closely monitored, Dlodlo had appointed an acting deputy director-general to work under him.

The person was seen as experienced and reliable and his presence in the foreign branch had prevented even more blunders on the part of McBride. “He is not the best of the best, but he is knowledgeable,” said an insider about the acting deputy director-general whose name is known to City Press.

Last week McBride declined to comment on the Mozambique operation and only responded with a laughing emoji.

However, his colleagues told City Press that the Mozambique incident was not the first blunder that he had committed and, since his arrival at the agency, he had failed to build relationships with knowledgeable and experienced people who would have been able to provide him with sound advice.

“What I know is that the instruction from the Union Buildings is that he is unsuitable for the post. McBride has gone rogue. When you speak to him, he does not listen. Clearly, other people influence his views,” said a spook.

His problem is that he arrived at the agency holding a view that he knew the trade

“His problem is that he arrived at the agency holding a view that he knew the trade. But that place is not an easy environment to work in. It does not only rely on you and your smartness.

You must rely on even the relations with the other services on several things. The foreign operation requires you to leverage relations at a high level so that your people can operate better. He does not have that, so why did the minister bring him on board?”

Another spook also blamed Dlodlo for bringing McBride to the agency. However, City Press learnt that McBride was among the candidates that Dlodlo had shortlisted, and she had not indicated any order of priority when submitting the names to President Cyril Ramaphosa for the appointment.

City Press reported last week on the four South African spooks who were caught and left stranded in Maputo following the failed operation.

The agents had their passports and equipment, including drones, confiscated in Maputo and lost contact with the agency. Their whereabouts were only known after one, only named Robert, managed to establish contact with the agency.

The team only returned safely home following intervention from Dlodlo, who learnt belatedly that the Mozambican security authorities had not been happy with the conduct of their South African counterparts.

READ: Benson Ngqentsu | ‘SAPS in danger of mutating into Mexican crime cartel’

Around the same time, Ramaphosa led a delegation to Mozambique, including Dlodlo, and none of them was aware of the details of the failed operation that threatened to cause a significant embarrassment for Ramaphosa and the country.

While City Press could not establish the exact dates during which the agents were stranded in Maputo, both Ramaphosa and Dlodlo were in Mozambique in early April, which was days after the terrorist attacks spiked late in March.

The South African delegation also visited the country in May and last month.

City Press learnt that the failed operation had been sanctioned by McBride and the operational protocols had allegedly not been followed. The protocol required that the Mozambican authorities be notified about the activities of the South African spooks in their territory.

An agreement providing for such collaborative operations was in place, however, it was ignored.


Setumo Stone 

Political Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
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