/ 9 October 2009

If it looks like a duck

The new appointments at the grandiose-sounding State Security Agency should not fool anyone: they are about loyalty.

That may be understandable. Spy chiefs historically have been appointed more for their ability to protect and promote their political masters than for their ability to help the ship of state avoid threats to national security.

But President Jacob Zuma has opted for people — at least in the case of Moe Shaik and Gibson Njenje — who have involved themselves intimately in the unhappy nexus of political ambition, business interests and unorthodox espionage that has characterised the battles within the ANC.

Ever since his brother Schabir was charged in what was perceived as a proxy war against Jacob Zuma, Shaik has been at the forefront of the battle to ensure Zuma’s political triumph. His justification was the smear tactics used by organs of state, in particular, allegedly, by Bulelani Ngcuka, then-national director of public prosecutions. Yet Shaik chose the same weapons he accused others of using — leaks and innuendo — and he exploited his access to intelligence, official or unofficial, to achieve his objective.

It was Moe Shaik who “reconstructed” the old ANC intelligence dossier that suggested Ngcuka might have been a spy. He didn’t hold a press conference to raise his concerns — no, he sent his report to Zuma and Jeff Maqetuka, then-national intelligence coordinator and now his new boss. And when he was conveniently “approached” by Sunday Times reporter Ranjeni Munusamy, he spilled the beans, leading to the news report that launched the Hefer Commission.

Throughout the long Zuma saga, Moe’s hand has been all but visible in the intelligence leaks and media management that made Zuma’s victory possible. No less than his opponents in the Thabo Mbeki camp, Shaik has shown himself willing to use intelligence to achieve political ends — ends whose justification in the “national interest” have often been tenuous.

Njenje, through his business association with the Kebble empire, and with the Watson family through his interest in empowerment company Vulisango, has also shown himself to be rather too close to people who made access to intelligence the premier plank of their business strategy.

His entanglement with the hoax-email saga, which again used leaked “intelligence” to continue the political campaign against Mbeki’s allies — Ngcuka and Saki Macozoma — still needs to be properly explained.

Yes, after a settlement and Njenje’s resignation, then-minister Ronnie Kasrils accepted that Njenje was “not involved” in any attempt or conspiracy to discredit any government minister or official. But, as head of operations, he was still in charge of the botched surveillance operation against Macozoma that led to investigations by the inspector general of intelligence.

And there is an earlier, unexplained, departure and re-appointment of Njenje that the state security ministry needs to explain. Of course Njenje benefited from the perception by both the Mbeki and Zuma camps that he was really working for them. All the above should not imply that either Shaik or Njenje are not competent. The same cannot be said as unequivocally for Maqetuka, the nominal head of the new structure.

Maqetuka had an embarrassing stint as director general for home affairs before being dispatched to recover as ambassador to Algeria. He is probably an interim appointment whose role will be to bed down the new intelligence structure that government wants to introduce in the course of 2010.

The consolidation of intelligence under one roof is probably justifiable to promote efficiency. But this centralisation of power brings with it the danger of a greater potential for abuse. Who will guard us from the guards?

Story that had to be told
Stranger than fiction. That is the reaction that has echoed through the week as Glenn Agliotti testifies in the South Gauteng High Court about cash in envelopes and shopping sprees, the techniques by which a police commissioner can be ensnared. It is as if only a stunned cliché is possible in the face of allegations that call into question basic verities: that the good guys wear uniforms, for example, and the bad guys wear ill-fitting suits; that they don’t shop together for designer jackets.

For staff at the Mail & Guardian there was vindication — just about everything that Agliotti has said this week was reported in our pages three years ago — but also anxiety and sadness. Few people believed us when we broke the story in May 2006 under the headline “Kebble, the Selebi link”. Not rival newspapers, which ignored the story or focused on Selebi’s denials; not opposition parties, which held back their usual barrage of press releases; and certainly not Interpol, which backed its president to the hilt.

What our stories suggested was a thorough-going capture of the state at its highest levels — including the presidency — by a network of drug smugglers, white-collar crooks and hitmen. That we were able to tell this complex story at all was because of classic investigative work — tracing webs of companies, ferreting out documents and interviewing a huge range of primary sources. It was also because of a constitutional dispensation that rigorously protects our right, and prescribes our duty, to tell stories of this kind.

The National Prosecuting Authority tried twice — once informally and once in court — to stop us. They failed. And they should be grateful they did. Had we not announced the story there is every possibility that then-president Thabo Mbeki’s efforts to sweep it under the carpet would have succeeded. We need to guard the space we have been granted by our courts, but we also need to ask why so few stories come to this conclusion. That’s why we aren’t in triumphal mode. There is much more work to be done.