Spook nation

The wars that turned South Africa’s intelligence services into a political battleground are over for now: a clear victory has been won and the spoils are being divided. Unfortunately the consolidation of immense powers in the hands of spies loyal to Jacob Zuma and the ANC probably signals worse to come, if not for the party, then for democracy.

Recent appointments to crucial security posts tell the story.

The ministry of what is now chillingly called “state security” is controlled by Siyabonga Cwele, a pleasant man and loyal supporter of Zuma. That his wife is the subject of a criminal probe into allegations of involvement in a drug-smuggling ring should worry us much more seriously than it has. If Zuma has evidence that would allay such concerns, he should share it with us.

The head of the new Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation, which is to replace the Scorpions, is Anwa Dramat, who cut his teeth in the brave and radical “Bonteheuwel Military Wing”. He has been compromised, however, by his role in the Erasmus Commission of Inquiry into allegations that Helen Zille had commissioned illegal spying. She had not. The whole affair was an appalling abuse of state resources to try to bring down a democratically elected official.

The minister of communications, with crucial powers over the sector that handles phone and internet traffic — exactly the material spies want access to — is Siphiwe Nyanda, a former defence chief fiercely committed to Zuma, who retains business links with the world of private intelligence and risk consulting.

Finally, Manala Manzini, the disastrous Thabo Mbeki appointee at the head of the National Intelligence Agency who meddled in the Jackie Selebi investigation, is clearly on his way out. It is uncertain who will replace him, but the pattern so far suggests it will be someone with a background in the ANC intelligence structures that were — and in many ways remain — Zuma’s home.

The NIA job may go to the president’s adviser, Moe Shaik, although the smart money suggests he is bound for the national intelligence coordinating committee and a position that could amount to intelligence czar.

We haven’t even started on the powerful ex-spooks who work in the business empire of Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale.

An independent review commissioned by former minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils last year found that the mandate of the NIA was over broad, particularly insofar as it enabled spying on political activities, and that greatly enhanced oversight capacity was needed to prevent abuses.

There is little cause for optimism that its recommendations will be implemented. There are clear indications from within the new intelligence leadership that the broad mandate will be maintained, and exploited even further, on the basis of political “chaos”, proliferating crime and service delivery protests.

That is cause for serious alarm. Billy Masetlha this week called for more transparency. His proposals are a bare minimum. It is time for all of us to fight against a hollow, Kremlinised democracy where our most vital choices are made for us by spies. Our complaint to the Inspector General’s office this week is our contribution.

A case of startling naiveté
The controversy surrounding Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele accepting, and then refusing, the gift of a Mercedes-Benz S500 valued at R1.1-million has highlighted our need for leaders with an S-Class quality moral GPS.

We commend Ndebele for returning the luxury sedan given to him by the Vukuzakhe group of emerging road contractors. His initial acceptance of the car, with fuel vouchers, two cows and a plasma TV, was ameliorated by the fact that this was done in public, indicating he did not view it as a bribe.

But the manner in which events unfolded suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Executive Members’ Code of Ethics and startling naiveté in someone who has held public office for 15 years.

Ndebele’s initial response was that he did not believe accepting the gift contravened the ethics code because the unsolicited gift was planned before he was appointed transport minister.

He went on to say that this was a “thank you” for starting a road construction project in 1996 while KwaZulu-Natal transport minister — a portfolio he vacated in 2004 to become provincial premier. This, he maintained, did not constitute a conflict of interest in accepting the gift.

This is a very narrow interpretation of a code that is clear cut. A much broader and more rigorous approach is needed. The general standards of the code require members of the executive to “act in good faith and in the best interest of good governance” and not “expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and their private interests”.

As a transport minister, accepting a gift from a group of road contractors Ndebele was risking seriously compromising himself.

Section 4.1 (a) is even clearer. It states that a minister may not accept a gift “which is in return for any benefit received from the member in the member’s official capacity”. The Vukuzakhe project has, according to Ndebele, allocated close to R10-billion to about 30 000 emerging contractors since its inception. A “thank you” of this scale for work in a previous portfolio is then outlawed.

That President Jacob Zuma and the ANC advised Ndebele to keep the car if he so wished — as long as Ndebele, in keeping with Section 3 of the code, declared it – is equally disappointing. It is time for the president to do a bit of reading.

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