EXCLUSIVE | 'We are taking it very, very seriously': Dlodlo on ISIS threat

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.
State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.
Kopano Tlape
  • Intelligence Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said the State Security Agency (SSA) was taking threats made by ISIS against South Africa seriously. 
  • In an interview with News24, she said the appointment of Robert McBride to head the SSA foreign branch could not have come at a better time. 
  • The minister said South Africa could not afford to walk away from threats made against its sovereignty.  

The State Security Agency (SSA) has opted to "err on the side of caution" with regards to a threat radical militant group ISIS made against South Africa over its role in dealing with insurgency in the north of Mozambique.

State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said the country's intelligence services was having sleepless nights over the threat and was taking it seriously. 

"It is something we are taking very, very seriously. Threats [that were made] like that were not idle in themselves. We will not take them as idle threats. We have a responsibility to secure our people."

In an interview with News24, she said the South African government could not simply "walk away" when threats against the country's sovereignty were made. 

The appointment of Robert McBride this week to head the State Security Agency's (SSA) foreign branch, Dlodlo added, would assist in South Africa's efforts to deal with these threats and other instability across the continent. 

"We just hope ISIS will understand if they are posing a threat to South Africa, South Africa will ready itself for such threats. We, as a sovereign state, have a responsibility to safeguard our country."

Fighting front

ISIS warned South Africa it would "open the fighting front" within the country's borders should it get involved in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province.

This is according to reports on ISIS' latest newsletter, Al-Naba.

In the newsletter, which is published in Arabic, it reportedly wrote European and American states were trying to convince South Africa to lead the war in Mozambique.

READ MORE: EXPLAINER | What's behind the 'ISIS' attacks in Mozambique and how does it affect SA? 

Since then, the government has been reticent to discuss the matter publicly, with Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula saying she would only discuss the matters with MPs behind closed doors.

"All matters pertaining to the national security of other countries, especially within SADC member states, are presented and discussed at the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence as and when required," Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament. 

Dlodlo said South Africa could not extricate itself from conflict in the southern African region.

"As a result of that, it becomes a responsibility for all of us in SADC to assist Mozambique in whatever way we can,"  she added.

Never a better time

Dlodlo said instability and conflict on the continent required the SSA to be on top of its game.

This was why, she added, McBride's appointment to head its foreign branch could not have come at a better time.

The position was vacant for four years. 

"I worked with Robert therefore I know how conscientious and industrious a worker he is. I have no doubt this is the best appointment we made," Dlodlo said.

Key responsibilities

McBride's appointment was seen as a move to bring stability to the SSA which has been fraught with internal strife, vacancies and low morale.

Political parties welcomed the appointment, with some critics questioning his appointment, given his controversial history.

Dlodlo said the appointment meant a load would be taken off her back. "The issue of endless acting positions is what was needed to be dealt with."

Last year, she tried to combat instability at the SSA by filling vacant positions and dealing with suspensions, but the process was blocked.

Dlodlo said McBride would assist in filling the positions he had the power to fill in terms of the law.

He will also have to review the agency's strategy of placing spooks in foreign stations around the world.

Additionally, he will have to build and maintain relations with other foreign intelligence agencies.

Other positions

Dlodlo said the SSA still had a long way to go to attain stability but it was off to a good start.

She added she and President Cyril Ramaphosa were seized with the appointment of a new director-general of the SSA as the president was forced to extend the contract of acting director-general Loyiso Jaftha for two months until the end of August.

Dlodlo said Jaftha would remain an SSA employee once the director-general position was filled.

She added that her main focus now, was to deal with a litany of SSA employees who have been on suspension.

Dlodlo said:

"You can't have a situation in an organisation where there is an individual suspended since 2013. Seven years later they have not finalised the process of either vindicating the individual or getting rid of him, based on the outcome of the investigation."
 

The minister said low morale in the organisation was something she had to work on too. 

More importantly, however, Dlodlo added that the move to restructure the country's intelligence services had hit a speed bump when a draft bill aimed at amending the Intelligence Act was found to be insufficient.

A high-panel report on the SSA, led by former minister Sydney Mufamadi, recommended it revert to its old way of doing business of having the National Intelligence Agency dealing with local intelligence and the SA Secret Service dealing with foreign matters. 

But efforts to amend the Intelligence Act have been moot as the bill is yet to be tabled to the Cabinet for approval.

Dlodlo said they realised the draft bill had shortcomings and that they had to go back to the drawing board.

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