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South Africa: Headed Towards Totalitarianism?

The politicization and misuse of intelligence services is a worrying development.

by
Hussein Solomon

Bio

March 24, 2012 - 12:00 am
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In a similar vein, leader of the opposition United Democratic Movement (UDM) Bantu Holomisa raised questions as to why NIA was trying to undermine the political opposition during local government elections in 2011. According to Holomisa, NIA agents approached a UDM candidate and offered him remuneration to serve as an agent for NIA within the UDM organization.

It would seem that the current bruising leadership tussles in the ruling ANC party are also causing deep divisions within the intelligence community.

Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele, who is very close to incumbent President Jacob Zuma, wanted some senior ANC leaders to be spied on. The heads of his intelligence services, Jeff Maqetuka (heading the State Security Agency), Gibson Njenje (heading the NIA,  and Moe Shaikh (heading the SASS), all defied the order. Consequently, all three have left the intelligence services.

In 2006, then-Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils received a report from National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC) pointing out that that the majority of serving intelligence officers “ … had been active in the struggle against or in defense of apartheid during the Cold War. The experiences and training of this era had inculcated a culture of non-accountability of intelligence and security services, and a no-holds-barred approach to intelligence operations.”

Over the past few years, South Africans were confronted several times with the reality of the intelligence services undermining the country’s hard-fought-for democratic institutions. The communications of the judges of the highest court of the land — the Constitutional Court — were intercepted by the NIA, while other NIA agents sought to stop the prosecution of former National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi. Meanwhile, journalists exposing the corrupt leases practices within the South African Police Services (SAPS), like the Sunday Times’ redoubtable Mzilikazi wa Afrika, had their communications eavesdropped on by the country’s intelligence services.

The centralization currently taking place in intelligence structures bodes ill for the future of this democratic state. The drums of totalitarianism beat ever louder.

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Dr. Hussein Solomon is Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of the Free State, South Africa.
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