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New security minister talks tough on state ‘sabotage’

New State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba has promised to crack the whip in the country’s intelligence service to clean up the mess left after former president Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday, a few days after she was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Letsatsi-Duba said one of her priorities would be to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement and abuse of slush funds by state security officials.

She also intends to conduct a skills audit in the state security department to ensure key positions are occupied by qualified people.

“With the little information we have so far, a clean-up [in the state security department] is needed in order to reposition the institution to its original status,” she said.

“There’s a need for a new broom. This [state security] is a very critical institution … you don’t just gamble with it. It’s very strategic in all respects. For the success of the country, this is critical. You need to know who are the roleplayers in order to advance the [objectives] of the country, politically and economically,” said Letsatsi-Duba.

The former Limpopo health and agriculture MEC and deputy public service minister has intelligence experience, having worked in the ANC intelligence structures during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

She criticised her predecessors, including David Mahlobo and Bongani Bongo, for failing to ensure that intelligence gathering was done effectively.

“You will wonder why there are so many service delivery protests [in the country]. And you will find out that somewhere in Mahikeng [or any part of the country] there is someone employed but is not doing what they are supposed to do.

“That’s what we call in military language a sabotage of some kind. There is no way you can succeed without a strong institution like this one,” said Letsatsi-Duba.

She intends removing unqualified and corrupt officials from key positions in the state security apparatus and replacing them with capable individuals who will help to restore the integrity of the institution.

“The approach will be to check who is doing what with what skills in the department. After that, we will be able to do an assessment. If there’s a need to bring new expertise into the department, we will do so. At the moment, we don’t know the personnel we have in terms of the experience and their qualifications to run an effective institution like this one,” said Letsatsi-Duba.

Born in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg in 1966, Letsatsi-Duba went into exile in Zambia at the age of 18 to join the ANC and Umkhonto weSizwe. After she returned in 1992, she worked as editor-in-chief of Voice of Women (the ANC women’s journal) and as a media liaison officer at the ANC’s Shell House headquarters.

She also worked closely with Zuma when he was deputy secretary general of the ANC and Ramaphosa was party secretary general.

Letsatsi-Duba was elected provincial treasurer of the ANC in Limpopo in 2008, before going on to serve as a member of the provincial legislature and chairing the portfolio committee on public enterprises in Parliament.

Last year, she was appointed by Zuma in his late-night Cabinet reshuffle as deputy public service and administration minister, where she reportedly had a frosty relationship with former minister Faith Muthambi.

According to government insiders, this was as a result of Letsatsi-Duba’s disapproval of Zuma’s leadership style. Muthambi was a vocal supporter of the former president.

This week, although some political commentators questioned Letsatsi-Duba’s appointment as state security minister, former spy boss Gibson Njenje told the M&G that she was the right person for the job.

“It’s a good appointment. She is a steady lady. I know her from exile. She is a good cadre who understands what’s going on in the security space — and she engages,” said Njenje.

Njenje was removed as state security director general in 2013 after he launched an investigation into the conduct of the Gupta family.

He urged the new minister to dedicate her energy to rooting out corruption in the department.

“She must close the taps very dry. Those are things that demoralise [good] people who are working there. These negative practices of stealing state money is the most telling. That’s totally demoralising,” said Njenje.

Kenny Mathivha, the spokesperson for Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha, described Letsatsi-Duba as an unassuming person. Mathivha worked with her in the Limpopo provincial legislature and was her spokesperson when she was the MEC for agriculture in the province.

“She is very reserved. Even after six months when she was MEC, she looked like any ordinary person. Few people within the department took time to realise she was the MEC. Some people would push her around and she would just smile until someone would say: ‘This is your MEC.’ She would just laugh,” said Mathivha.

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