Ronnie Kasrils: Bring it to light

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils has hit out at what he calls the ‘sorry saga of leaks” and ‘the political conspiracies dominating the public discourse”.

‘There is one way to deal with this regression into spying, conspiracies and the role the intelligence services are playing: we have to deal with it like you deal with Dracula—bring it all out into the sunlight.”

There are apparently intercepts of you talking to former Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy. Were you part of a ‘McCarthy network” of people plotting the prosecution of Zuma?
I absolutely wasn’t. I’m not a fool.
The irony is that on one of the occasions I had a lengthy discussion with McCarthy it was at the request of Moe Shaik, who asked me to intercede regarding the Scorpions’ intent to prosecute Mac Maharaj. I did because I had an understanding of Maharaj’s role in the underground. I spoke to McCarthy and I put forward Shaik’s position.

No matter what they release I wouldn’t be embarrassed, but what is happening is part of a dangerous process of guilt by association to support a particular conspiracy theory—and it’s harmful to the whole fabric of our society.

Did you advise McCarthy whether to charge Zuma?
No. I only expressed a view that charging Zuma days before Polokwane would be madness. It was clear from what I heard that they were definitely prosecuting Zuma.

I had a conversation and said: For god’s sake, if you guys are determined to prosecute, that’s your decision, but you can’t do this before Polokwane because you will turn this into a riot.

That statement, attributed to Bulelani [Ngcuka], is exactly what I, and apparently others, said: ‘You guys are mad. If you’re prosecuting, wait for next year.” I never had a conversation about whether or not to charge. It’s not my call! And at no time in my discussions with McCarthy was I an intermediary for [Thabo] Mbeki.

In one of the published conversations between Ncguka and McCarthy they refer to a person as ‘that guy”. Is that you?
It’s possible. Who knows? I’ve no guilt about expressing a view - without interfering in McCarthy’s duty to decide their course of action—about the timing of Zuma’s prosecution. Of course, if they had charged Zuma before Polokwane it would have seemed even more of a conspiracy.

We never discussed whether to prosecute or not—it’s not my role. Our relations were formal. There was nothing sinister or underhanded in us meeting. It would be remarkable if the minister of intelligence never met with the head of the DSO [directorate of special operations].

Tapping cellphone conversations and making inferences from that shows you how ludicrous this type of spying is. It creates a witch-hunt. It’s shocking that they have intercepts of McCarthy¹s phone. He was an officer of state.

One state institution spying on another state institution is a terrible state of affairs because it means that intelligence is politicised.

Was there a conspiracy against President Zuma?
There was a big conspiracy against Mbeki. Even somebody such as Ken Owen says what happened at Polokwane was a putsch.

How easy or hard is it to tap people’s cellphones and landlines?
The law says you need a judge’s approval. Cellphone companies give people’s itemised billing to law enforcement agencies—including intelligence people—quite easily. Unfortunately intelligence agencies then tend to draw conclusions about political allegiances purely based on looking at cellphone records. Journalists and politicians are specifically vulnerable to this kind of ‘intelligence”, which is very dangerous.

Those people screaming that there was a political plot against Zuma have used intelligence and government institutions for spying for a faction of a political party and that is what has led to this horrendous mess we are in now.

If we are in a horrendous mess, how much is of your making?
I tried my best to prevent abuses. I would welcome and cooperate in full with an inquiry into any allegations of a plot, whether against presidents Mbeki or Zuma. I will not respond to innuendo. Let’s bring the facts into the light of day. Crying conspiracy is debilitating to our democracy.

I hope deeply that President Zuma and our new Cabinet will succeed. One of the most important issues facing our government is to arrest this sinister trend where intelligence is used to serve political factions rather than the state.

Do you think the intelligence services need reform?
The starting point must be a full discussion about the Joe Matthews report I commissioned, which dealt with all these problems. That report must be placed in the public domain, given the seriousness of this issue and its threat to democracy. One of the recommendations is to strengthen the oversight role of the minister rather than leaving it in the hands of the officials.

I hope Zuma does well to control these services. Even Helen Zille is now crying about spy rings! It is imperative that public trust is regained.

What are the mistakes you made as minister of intelligence?
I didn’t pay sufficient attention to what was going on within the ANC while I was minister. I lost touch with the grass roots of the movement, where the culture of disinformation was able to take hold.

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