Intelligence failure on co-ordinated insurrection will cost South Africa billions

The political inferno rocking our beloved country proves that the entire intelligence establishment was fast asleep: somehow, an event of this magnitude evaded its high-tech radar screens. A failure of this depth must have repercussions for those who are entrusted with our safety, security and the analysing of real-time intelligence.

The extent of this failure is staggering. It will cost the country at least R20-billion or perhaps more in terms of destruction of property and frightening job losses, and the inevitable rapid rise in Covid-19 deaths and infections. As time passes, more information will become available and the bare facts of what happened will become clearer.

The mandate of the State Security Agency (SSA) is to provide the government with intelligence on domestic and foreign threats; potential threats to national stability, the constitutional order, and the safety and wellbeing of our people.The SSA failed miserably in our hour of need. Parliament needs to probe the most glaring intelligence blunder in our entire history.

If our government and its leaders understood the gravity of the threat they faced and understood at the same time that their policies meant to solve it were not likely to succeed any time soon, then history’s judgement will be harsh. I wonder if they understood the gravity of this emerging threat. The state’s inability to foresee or forestall this frightening and destructive series of events that occurred on such a mammoth scale was a monumental failure that defies explanation. It was a self-imposed disaster and the result of terrible intelligence management, not the poor collection or analysis of information.

We are now in a grim situation that afflicts the whole nation. We are reeling from a series of catastrophic failures of institutional trustworthiness.This ruthless insurrection succeeded because important warnings got lost amid noise or because intelligence officials lacked the skills to “connect the dots” of the available information. It seems obvious that the SSA and Crime Intelligence missed the big picture of “tell-tale indicators” of the impending inferno due to their culture of a piecemeal approach to intelligence analysis.

South Africa is tragically witnessing a planned and co-ordinated insurrection by the faceless enemies of democracy. There will have to be a reconstruction of the events of the past four weeks, to find out who dropped the ball, and why. Despite ample evidence of pending anarchy, there was an intelligence breakdown and a serious lack of preparation. 

Our law enforcement agencies across the country rely on intelligence, and the quality of that intelligence can mean the difference between life and death for many. In our hour of deadly crisis, we were tragically let down.We lowered our guard and allowed chaos to prevail. South Africa will never be the same.

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Farouk Araie
Farouk Araie is a Mail & Guardian reader from Actonville in Gauteng

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