What McBride's appointment means for the country's intelligence services

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Robert McBride.
Robert McBride.
Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24
  • Robert McBride's appointment as head of the State Security Agency's foreign branch is seen as an effort to bring stability to the organisation. 
  • This as the SSA faces instability and internal strife with the contract of the acting director-general, Loyiso Jaftha, tentatively extended for two months until the end of August. 
  • The contract of McBride's counterpart, domestic branch head Sam Muofhe, has been extended for a year until next May. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa this week confirmed his first pick as the director of the foreign branch of the State Security Agency (SSA).

Robert McBride, formerly of IPID, will take over the critical job of co-ordinating South Africa's foreign intelligence.

He takes over the helm of one of the most important positions in an organisation riddled with vacancies, instability and internal strife.

His appointment has been hailed as an effort to bring stability to the SSA and to professionalise the intelligence services.

McBride's name was touted for the position alongside former deputy minister of energy Thembi Majola who resigned from her position in 2016. 

Ultimately, McBride proved to be Ramaphosa’s preferred candidate as the country's intelligence services are in for a shake up.

His first task will be to stabilise the foreign branch which had an acting head, Joyce Mashele, for the last four years.

ALSO READ | McBride hits back at Mkhwebane's report: 'It is irrational, findings can't be reconciled with facts'

McBride will have to fill key positions in the organisation starting with a deputy director who is responsible for the intelligence of the "rest of the world" outside Africa.

Restructure

McBride's appointment comes as efforts to restructure the country's intelligence agency back to its initial operating structure of having two separate entities responsible for domestic and foreign intelligence.

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

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

In 2019, Ramaphosa announced in his State of the Nation Address the country's intelligence services was in for a shake up.

Efforts to stabilise the organisation had hit a block, with conflict between Intelligence Minister Ayanda Dlodlo and the acting director-general, Loyiso Jaftha.

Dlodlo was also said to have had a run-in with Ramaphosa's appointee as head of the SSA's domestic branch, Sam Muofhe.

Persistent instability 

While insiders in the intelligence services have welcomed McBride's appointment, they warned instability in the SSA was likely to persist as Jaftha's contract as acting director-general had lapsed at the end of June and was extended for a further two months.

In May, Ramaphosa extended Muofhe's contract for another year and is not expected to extend it further.

Two insiders said McBride's key job was to clean up the agency of rogue elements while simultaneously work on increasing South Africa's intelligence capabilities in Africa and beyond. 

His appointment was welcomed by the DA but questioned by other political parties.

"The DA hopes that McBride will rise above the politics and do the job he and the agency is actually supposed to do," the party said in a statement. 

Jaws dropped when his contract was not renewed as IPID head last year.

He went on to work in the Department of Public Service and Administration where he headed an anti-corruption ethics unit.

This is where he worked closely with Dlodlo when she was still minister of that department.

She welcomed McBride's appointment, saying he brought a wealth of experience to the intelligence services. 

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