SPY WARS: How the Zuma doctrine broke the State Security Agency

Former president Jacob Zuma and David Mahlobo during his question and answer session at the National Assembly on November 2, 2017. (Gallo Images)
Former president Jacob Zuma and David Mahlobo during his question and answer session at the National Assembly on November 2, 2017. (Gallo Images)

Former president Jacob Zuma has, for the umpteenth time, emerged as the central figure in the dismantling of another institution of state – this time the State Security Agency (SSA).

According to explosive findings by the high-level review panel into the SSA, Zuma breached the Constitution, irregularly made changes to the previous intelligence structures and was directly responsible for executive interference in the workings of the agency.

READ IN FULL: High-Level Review Panel on the SSA

He is also responsible for the "extremely serious politicisation and factionalisation" of the SSA, while the agency's neglect to act on warnings about the Guptas and state capture "has cost the country dearly".

Zuma has been fingered as the central figure manipulating the state and its institutions in a number of inquiries and investigations, including the ongoing judicial commission of inquiry into state capture.

Jacob Zuma
Former president Jacob Zuma and David Mahlobo at the Nasrec Expo Centre on December 14, 2017 in Johannesburg. (Gallo Images)

The damning report, commissioned by President Cyril Ramaphosa last year, was released on Saturday. The review panel was led by former minister of safety and security Sydney Mufamadi, now an academic at the University of Johannesburg.

It recommends the sweeping restructuring of the SSA, investigations and the possible laying of criminal charges against Zuma, former ministers and senior SSA officials and an overhaul of governing legislation and oversight capabilities.

The report describes the SSA as an institution almost wholly and completely concerned with factional battles inside the governing ANC and the creation of parallel intelligence networks to the sole benefit of Zuma's personal political ambitions. It says the president was part of covert efforts at "social engineering" by a secretive SSA unit and that it entails a breach of the Constitution and law "for which there must be consequences".

And it names politicisation and factionalisation, especially and specifically after Zuma became president, as the main reasons why the SSA is in shambles.

The investigation even found that the oath of allegiance taken by intelligence operatives was changed to not only swear loyalty to the Constitution, but also to the president himself and requires them to "recognise the authority of the minister of state security".

Constitution violated

The panel found that the boundary between the executive, including the minister, and the intelligence service "had been breached in numerous ways" because of the executive's direct involvement in intelligence operations. In the report, the panel argues that a professional public service, especially members of the intelligence community, need to display a level of impartiality and professionalism in order that it may serve the government of the day without becoming involved in politics.

Such a public service, however, also requires a government that understands those tenets and respects it in principle and practice. The panel, however, found that the Zuma government did not do this and that fears about presidential interference "in the administration and conduct of the intelligence services" were all too real.

Also read: From the Mufamadi report: To see or not to see

Intelligence services, including Crime Intelligence, have become "extensively embroiled" in the politics and factionalism of the ANC, the report says, and adds that the SSA’s integrity has been destroyed and the value of its work has been undermined because of this.

The establishment of a Special Operations (SO) unit under the direction of one of Zuma's trusted lieutenants, Thulani Dlomo, carried out extensive work in support of Zuma personally. It not only provided support services for some of Zuma's most trusted allies like Dudu Myeni, Collen Maine and Berning Ntlemeza, but also attempted to subvert Ramaphosa's campaign for the ANC's leadership.

"It is clear from the above information and other information available to the panel that SO had largely become a parallel intelligence structure serving a faction of the ruling party and, in particular, the personal political interests of the sitting president of the party and country.

"This is in direct breach of the Constitution, the White Paper, the relevant legislation and plain good government intelligence functioning," says the report.

Zuma cadre deployment

Zuma, and his ministers of state security (Siyabonga Cwele, David Mahlobo and for a couple of months, Bongani Bongo) also ensured that pliant officials staffed key positions at the SSA: "In the period being reviewed by the panel, the (former) president and minister have played key parts in deploying 'their people' into the SSA. This makes the appointees beholden to the appointers and this is particularly damaging when the intelligence service is as politicised as the SSA has become."

Besides finding that manipulation of the SSA for factional purposes "emerged from the top, the Presidency", Zuma's involvement in the operations of Dlomo's SO "constitute a serious breach of the Constitution and law for which there must be consequences".

Zuma responded on Twitter, seemingly threatening Ramaphosa with revelations about his working together with the apartheid police. It echoes similar claims made last month by Mosiuoa Lekota, Cope leader. It was rejected by Ramaphosa.

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