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.

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