Ramaphosa moves to transform spy agency

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By Colleta Dewa

Johannesburg –  South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed a high-level review panel to assess the work of the State Security Agency (SSA).

Khusela Diko, the Presidency's spokesperson, said the panel follows Ramaphosa's statements made in the National Assembly last month.

“President Ramaphosa has said that the panel must seek to identify all material factors that allowed for some of the current challenges within the agency so that appropriate measures are instituted to prevent a recurrence.

“The main objective of the review panel is to assist in ensuring a responsible and accountable national intelligence capability for the country in line with the Constitution and relevant legislation," Diko said in a statement.

Earlier, President Ramaphosa shifted SSA director-general, Arthur Fraser, to the Department of Correctional Services.

The move was seen as a huge step towards restructuring the agency that is plagued by allegations of corruption.

The decision to move Fraser came after Inspector-General of Intelligence Dr Setlhomamaru Dintwe claimed in an affidavit that Fraser was interfering with his duties.

Information from SSA suggested that Fraser had revoked Dintwe's security clearance.

Earlier this year, President Ramaphosa appointed Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, as new Minister of State Security during the cabinet reshuffle.

Diko also announced that Ramaphosa appointed former defence minister Charles Nqakula as his national security advisor.

The other members of the panel include former spy boss Barry Gilder, Professor Jane Duncan, Anthoni Van Nieuwkerk, Professor Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo, Murray Michell, Basetsana Molebatsi, Siphokazi Magadla, Andre Pruis and Silumko Sokupa.

Analysts have expressed varying sentiments regarding the panel.

Joel Mokwatsi, a political analyst, told The Southern Times that Ramaphosa’s panel is compromised by politicking.

“Ramaphosa seems to be recycling people and, if you take a closer look at the panel, you can see that he himself doesn’t have many friends. He has accommodated some guys who were in Mbeki’s government. It indicates that he cannot come up with his own team. I also hope it is not directed at upsetting Zuma who was not a darling of the Mbeki administration. It could be a panel chosen through mere politicking,” he said.

Political analyst, Dr Flora Chikanda, said she is confident the team will deliver.

“To a larger extent, Ramaphosa is in the right direction. The state security agency is very vital for him to remain in office. He is also trying to consolidate himself by restructuring it. As for the panel, I think it is made up of level-headed people who have come a long way and who know the dos and don’ts. Am confident they will deliver the anticipated results.  The inclusion of academia’s Professor Jane Duncan, Professor Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo, Dr Siphokazi Magadla and Anthoni Van Nieuwkerk will help balance the outcome,” she said.

SA’s intelligence services have seemingly been allowed to avoid any real and effective changes since the fall of the apartheid regime.

Soon after former president Thabo Mbeki lost control of the ANC to Jacob Zuma, the Matthews Commission produced Intelligence in a Constitutional Democracy, a report about the shortcomings of the country’s state intelligence agencies that was signed off by Joe Matthews, Frene Ginwala and Laurie Nathan.

The report aimed at strengthening mechanisms of control of the civilian intelligence structures in SA in order to ensure full compliance and alignment with the Constitution, constitutional principles and the rule of law, and particularly to minimise the potential for illegal conduct and abuse of power.

The report, however, was never acted upon by the Zuma administration, and in many respects, the politicisation of the intelligence services it sought to tackle only worsened.

Recently, Malusi Gigaba and several South African leaders, including Blade Nzimande and Solly Mapaila, have formally complained to the inspector-general of intelligence about suspected state bugging of their phones.

According to security experts, revelations, leaks and investigations over the past 20 years indicate that the intelligence services have not been adequately transformed since South Africa’s transition to democracy.

The services have more in common with their apartheid-era predecessors than with the principles of the country’s democratic constitution.

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