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Zuma 'emulating PW Botha'

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Max du Preez

There is a real and imminent danger that South Africa could further deteriorate into the kind of police state that Russia has become under Vladimir Putin.

President Jacob Zuma is, in many ways, emulating apartheid president PW Botha who had ruled with an iron fist during the 1980s to counter what he called a Total Onslaught against his government.

Zuma would never have survived all the scandals and onslaughts if he hadn’t had the full backing of the department of state security and the police.

He has two of the most formidable bodyguards: State Security Minister David Mahlobo and Police Minister Nathi Nhleko. (Both men involved themselves in defending Zuma on the Nkandla accusations.)

We know after last Thursday’s Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla that the president can be held accountable on public utterances and actions, but how will South Africans hold the intelligence services and the police accountable?

Suddenly the signs of this threat are all around us: a well-orchestrated armed force invade the offices of the Helen Suzman Foundation and only steal old computers and hard drives; the former SANDF chief, Siphiwe Nyanda, is hijacked in Centurion days after he signed a letter demanding Zuma’s resignation, but his expensive car is found shortly after; the man who has made it his calling to expose police corruption, Paul O’Sullivan, is taken off a plane at OR Tambo airport by a group of armed Hawks members and taken to Pretoria in a blue-light convoy because of an alleged passport offence; EFF leader Julius Malema is forced off the highway in Johannesburg late at night and surrounded by about 20 armed policemen, just to be allowed to go free again.

The Suzman Foundation and O’Sullivan share only one thing: both are in the process of taking action against Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza.

These examples of apparent police intimidation and illegal action are only what have been in the news the last weeks. There is a long list that didn’t get into the newspapers: burglaries, intimidation, trumped-up criminal charges, kidnappings, assaults and even assassinations (Numsa shop stewards, for example) where the victims were opponents or critics of the police or ANC figures.

Go Google what had happened during the last year or two to activists of the squatter movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. It is shocking, but these are only shack dwellers so no-one takes this very seriously.

On Sunday the news editor of the Sunday Times, Bongani Soqoko, apologised half-heartedly for about 30 stories published in the paper since November 2014 that accused an investigative unit of SARS of all kinds of malpractices and ill deeds. Not one of these “facts”, like the stories that the unit had run a brothel and had placed microphones in Zuma’s home, turned out to be true.

The discrediting of the unit after it had come across suspicions that the president and some of his very wealthy friends may have avoided paying tax was driven and coordinated by agents of state security. The Sunday Times simply published these planted stories, and these were then used as an excuse to disband the unit and to replace the top structure of SARS.

Two of the SARS victims, Ivan Pillay and Johan van Loggerenberg, were given their first opportunity to state their case and explain what the unit actually did in Sunday’s edition of the Sunday Times.

This saga had nothing to do with state security. It had everything to do with ANC infighting and the protection of the president and his rich friends.

Last month Ntlemeza started using the witch hunt at SARS to start harassing the man whom Zuma was forced to appoint as minister of finance in December last year, Pravin Gordhan.

In February last year minister Mahlobo’s department was responsible for the jamming of the cellphone signal during the president’s state of the nation address to minimise the public impact of the EFF’s actions. Again, it had nothing whatsoever to do with state security or safety of any leaders.

It is not inappropriate to compare the Zuma administration’s abuse of security forces and intelligence operators with the way former apartheid president PW Botha governed during the 1980s.

Botha created a super Cabinet called the State Security Council overseeing a National Security Management System. This system gave birth to clandestine units such as the police death squad at Vlakplaas and the SADF’s Civil Cooperation Bureau and Ditrectorate Covert Collection.

Zuma’s version is the “security cluster”: the ministers of Justice and Correctional Services, Defence, Home Affairs, Police and State Security.

Civil society, opposition parties and the media would have to be far more active and vigilant than they have been so far if we were to avoid the serious undermining of our freedoms and democracy.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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