21 March, 2012

On our Way to a Totalitarian State

by Hussein Solomon

At face value the innocuous sounding General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill makes perfect sense. After all who would not want a more streamlined intelligence structure preventing duplication and cutting out wasteful expenditure? The Bill provides for one unified intelligence structure as opposed to the previous separation between domestic and foreign intelligence agencies – the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the South African Secret Service (SASS) respectively. Moreover such an amalgamation makes sense in this globalizing world where distinctions between the domestic and international realms is hard to make at the best of times.

However as Drew Forrest and Sam Sole cogently argue in their incisive article in the Mail and Guardian the Bill does concentrate excessive power in the hands of the Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele and bolsters the position of security hawks who are gaining ground in government. What makes this an ominous development is that it is taking place at a time when the elements of our democratic state is under fire from the ruling ANC – from the media, to the judiciary. Indeed, our hard fought for Constitution is also under fire. That this intelligence reform is taking place during a messy ANC leadership succession battle where the intelligence services has increasingly been politicized to serve the narrow aims of party political elites as opposed to serving the security needs of ordinary South African citizens also gives rise to the scepticism with which it is being viewed.

Since at least 2005 the NIA have been at the forefront of claims that both (former South African President) Mbeki and (current South African President) Zuma’s camps were using state structures to further their political goals. It was after all former police Crime Intelligence head Mulangi Mphego who provided classified material to Zuma’s lawyer Michael Hulley. These included conversations between Leonard McCarthy, the former head of the Scorpions and Bulelani Ngcuka, the former National Director of Public Prosecutions. It was on the basis of this information that Hulley scuttled President Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial – that the Zuma investigation was politically tainted. This, in turned, paved the way for Zuma’s ascent to the presidency.

There are also other indications to support the idea that the politicization of the intelligence community is continuing apace and that the ruling ANC has a seemingly privileged relationship with the intelligence community. In February 2010, in response to media reports of irregular tenders being awarded to then ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Malema responded that he has secret documents detailing a vendetta against him and others supporting Jacob Zuma ostensibly compiled by state security agencies. This prompted the President of the Congress of the People (COPE), Mosiua Lekota to declare, ‘In terms of our law, no private citizen is entitled to have access to State information especially not information which is often classified. The revelation by Mr. Malema that he is in possession of a State intelligence document suggests that this private citizen has free access to what otherwise is State property from which all private citizens are excluded. COPE is entitled to demand an explanation from President Zuma and the Minister of Intelligence why this special dispensation is accorded to Mr. Malema’. In similar vein, the leader of the opposition United Democratic Movement (UDM), Bantu Holomisa raised questions as to why NIA was trying to undermine to political opposition during the local government elections in 2011. According to Holomisa, NIA agents approached a UDM candidate and offered him remuneration to serve as an agent for NIA within UDM structures.

It would seem that the bruising leadership tussles in the ruling ANC party is also causing deep divisions within the intelligence community. The Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele, who is very close to the incumbent President Jacob Zuma who seeks a second term in office, wanted some senior ANC leaders to be spied on. The heads of his intelligence services, Jeff Maqetuka (heading the State Security Agency), Gibson Njenje (heading the NIA) and Moe Shaikh (heading the SASS) all defied the order. Consequently all three have left the intelligence services.

In 2006, then Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils received a report from NICOC pointing out that that the majority of serving intelligence officers “…had been active in the struggle against or in defence of apartheid during the Cold War. The experiences and training of this era had inculcated a culture of non-accountability of intelligence and security services, and a no-holds-barred approach to intelligence operations’. Over the past few years, South Africans were confronted several times with this reality – the intelligence services undermining the country’s hard-fought for democratic institutions. The communications of the judges of the highest court of the land – the Constitutional Court – were intercepted by the NIA, whilst other NIA agents sought to stop the prosecution of former National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi. Meanwhile, journalists exposing the corrupt leases practices within the SAPS, like the Sunday Times’ redoubtable Mzilikazi wa Africa had their communications eavesdropped by the country’s intelligence services.

With the centralization currently taking place in intelligence structures, I fear that it bodes ill for the future of our democratic state. The drums of totalitarianism are beating ever louder as it draws closer.

The Scorpions were the elite organized crime busting unit within the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

13 March, 2012

Why Zimbabwe?

by Virgil Hawkins

Africa may well be a continent that is routinely marginalized by most of the media in the outside world, but Zimbabwe is one of the few exceptions to the rule. Isolated murmurs in the Western media about democratic shortcomings in the 1990s gave way to much more substantive coverage in 2000 when President Robert Mugabe began pursuing aggressive land reforms that saw white farmers ejected from their land (a number were killed). Media interest in Zimbabwe continued to grow beyond this point, with coverage focusing largely on political turmoil and oppression, peaking (for the time being) with the controversial elections of 2008. On balance, few countries in Africa (perhaps only South Africa and Egypt) can match the levels of media coverage in Western countries devoted to Zimbabwe. But why the interest?

Coverage is, of course, to a large degree, a reflection of policy interest. The existence of a 'free' press notwithstanding, the media tend to take many of their cues on how to look at (and whether to look at) foreign policy issues from the policymakers in their 'home' countries. Zimbabwe is certainly not found wanting in this regard. It was the only African mention on Condoleeza Rice's 'outposts of tyranny' list, and while red carpets are regularly rolled out for leaders with arguably worse democratic and human rights records than Zimbabwe, Mugabe is treated as a pariah. He is banned from travelling to the EU, for example, and the UK's Prince Charles and former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, have both found themselves in deep public relations trouble for shaking hands with Robert Mugabe, and were forced to make excuses (Prince Charles was 'taken by surprise' while Jack Straw claimed it was too dark to see with whom he was shaking hands). Zimbabwe appears to occupy a unique place in Western consciousness – a place reserved for those reviled as the 'world's worst dictators'.

Indeed, much has been made of Zimbabwe's democratic shortcomings – the suppression of dissent, the intimidation of political opponents, and the rigging of elections. While these are certainly valid criticisms, the selectiveness with which countries are held to certain democratic standards naturally calls into question the motives of those making the assertions. The actions of regimes with considerably worse democratic records tend to be swept under the rug, or result in little more than a mild expression of criticism.

North Africa was a case in point (at least until the wave of the so-called 'Arab spring'), but such double-standards are equally apparent in much of sub-Saharan Africa as well. Deaths associated with election-related violence have far outnumbered Zimbabwe in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Togo, and yet none of these cases could compare with Zimbabwe in terms of levels of media concern and indignation. The same can be said in cases where ruling party control over the electoral process remains arguably tighter than that in Zimbabwe, such as Eritrea, Angola, Chad and Rwanda. For all of the intimidation and alleged rigging, in Zimbabwe's 2008 elections, there was at least a sufficient degree of 'freedom' to allow the incumbent to lose the first round of the voting.

So then what are the real reasons behind the media interest? Western strategic and economic interests do not serve as particularly convincing explanations, considering that, relatively speaking, Zimbabwe does not appear to have a great deal to offer in this regard. It does have some diamonds and was once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, but in terms of size, population, geostrategic significance, resources and ease of access, for example, a country such as Nigeria – a regional power that accounts for as much as 20 percent of US oil imports – could be expected to attract considerably more attention. Yet in the first ten years of the new millennium, the amount of coverage the New York Times devoted to Zimbabwe was more than double the amount it devoted to Nigeria.

A much more credible explanation can be found in Mugabe's refusal to play ball with powerful Western governments. His impassioned railings against the West, in perfect English, undoubtedly designed to help shore up support within Zimbabwe, certainly raise his 'public enemy' credentials in Western countries. It is also interesting that it took the expulsion and killing of white farmers (rather than the political oppression of the black population) for Zimbabwe to begin to take a prominent place on Western media agendas, this was a key trigger event for attention.

Zimbabwe is hardly a geostrategic threat to the West, but Mugabe's badmouthing and attempts to whip up opposition to Western policies threaten to tarnish the image of certain Western countries. This cannot be ignored, and thus enhanced punitive measures focusing on 'human rights' and 'democracy' are typically employed. Mugabe remains one of the most popular 'bad guys' on the continent (despite Joseph Kony's star rising) – a leader that people love to hate.