During the years of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, elements of the State Security Agency were repurposed and used to fight factional ANC political battles, a high-level panel review on the country’s intelligence service has found.
Former state security ministers Siyabonga Cwele as well as David Mahlobo and the former head of special operations at the SSA, Thulani Dlomo, were complicit in what the panel describes as “executive overspill in the last decade or so”.
The report also mentions the Gupta family, who top SSA investigators had warned Cwele in 2011 posed a serious threat to national security due to their relationship with Zuma. Their warnings were ignored and instead, both were axed.
The panel report finds that the then executive, Cwele, failed in his duty to heed the warnings. It does state however that this was not a failure of intelligence capability.
Their actions constitute “a serious breach of the Constitution and law for which there must be consequences”.
The panel, headed by Dr Sydney Mufamadi, was established by President Cyril Ramaphosa in June last year and finalised its report to the president in December.
The Presidency released a redacted version of the report on Saturday. In a statement accompanying the publication of the report it reveals that Ramaphosa had given the leadership and staff of the SSA an undertaking he would release the report “for the benefit of all South Africans”.
According to the statement, the panel was tasked with identifying all material factors that contributed to current challenges in the SSA so that appropriate measures could be instituted to prevent a recurrence.
The report does not name Zuma, Cwele, Mahlobo or Dlomo. However, it mentions the positions held by the men and by cross-referencing the timing of events, News24 was able to verify the identity of the individuals mentioned.
Dlomo, who until recently was serving as South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, was appointed to head up the Special Operations Unit of the SSA in 2012, and at the time told colleagues he reported directly to Zuma.
At the time he was shrouded in a cloud of controversy amid allegations that he accepted R1-million in kickbacks in exchange for the awarding of a R45-million contract to the Kwa-Zulu Natal department of social development, where he was the head of security.
He resigned and was never prosecuted.
Earlier this year, Ramaphosa recalled Dlomo from his diplomatic post to which he was appointed by Zuma in April 2017.
The ministry of international relations confirmed that Dloma has returned following the recall and he awaits further instructions.
Dlomo is described as “the most recalcitrant and evasive ‘witness’” the panel encountered in all its interviews.
“He invoked the ‘need to know principle’ to withhold information – particularly with regard to his interaction with the Executive – from the panel,” the report reads.
The 127-page report makes various findings but arguably the most crucial are the findings surrounding former president Zuma.
“The manipulation of the SSA for factional purposes has emerged from the top – the Presidency – through the Minister of State Security and into the management and staff of the SSA,” a finding in the report states.
“The activities of the SSA and attempts at social engineering, through its Special Operations arm, and the involvement of the President and Minister in these constitute a serious breach of the constitution and law for which there must be serious consequences.”
The report also found that “the then Minister” [Cwele held the position from 2009 to 2014 and David Mahlobo succeeded him between 2014 and 2017] directly participated in intelligence operations in breach of constitutional and legal prescripts.
The attempts to influence the trade union movement and civil society organisations in the country through surveillance, was an improper use of public resources and violated the SSA’s constitutional mandate to remain politically impartial.
Under Dlomo, Special Operations was "a law unto itself and directly served the political interests of the Executive [Zuma]" the report reveals.
Special Operation also undertook intelligence operations which were "clearly unconstitutional and illegal".
Some of these operations include:
- Training of undercover agents in VIP protection, assigning some to protect Zuma, as well as others that were not entitled to such protection, including former South African Airways chair Dudu Myeni, former National Director of Public Prosecutions, the ANC Youth League President and the former acting head of the Hawks.
- Infiltrating and influencing the media in order, apparently, to counter bad publicity for the country, the then President and the SSA.
- Intervention in the #FeesMustFall protests to influence the director of the student movement
- Counter operations to impede the distribution of CR17 [Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign] regalia and impede transportation systems used by dissident groups of Ramaphosa supporters during the 2016 ANC January 8 event in Rustenburg
The report recommends a splitting of the SSA into two agencies, with separate domestic and foreign mandates, which Ramaphosa first revealed in his State of the Nation Address.
It also recommends that legislation provisions on the role of the Minister of State Security be reviewed and that the appointment of the head of the SSA should follow a similar process as that of the NDPP.
It further recommends that its findings and the findings of the Inspector General of Intelligence probe into the Special Operations result in criminal prosecution and/or disciplinary action.
Dlomo, the panel recommends, should be recalled, a recommendation Ramaphosa has already acted on.
* This article was updated after publication to remove a reference to Mr Dlomo having not yet returned from his post as Ambassador to Japan. This was incorrect. Mr Dlomo has since the recall returned to South Africa, and is awaiting further instructions.