SSA evaluator and analyst Nokunqoba Dlamini told the state capture inquiry that SAA board members were not subjected to the same intensely personal vetting process that executives were put through. Picture: Screengrab
SSA evaluator and analyst Nokunqoba Dlamini told the state capture inquiry that SAA board members were not subjected to the same intensely personal vetting process that executives were put through. Picture: Screengrab

SAA execs quit over 'deeply personal' nature of SSA vetting process, inquiry hears

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Feb 19, 2020

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Johannesburg - The Zondo commission has heard how South African Airways (SAA) executives were subjected to invasive and personal questions by the State Security Agency (SSA) as part of the agencies' efforts to protect access to classified information.  

SSA evaluator and analyst Nokunqoba Dlamini took the stand at the inquiry on Wednesday. The inquiry is probing aviation-related testimony this week. 

The commission's evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr explained that in 2015 discussions between the then minister of state security, David Mahlobo, and former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene it was decided that SAA executives had to be vetted in line with SSA's mandate. 

Dlamini explained to the inquiry that legislation governing the SSA required that executives of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) should be vetted before they occupy a position. This was to protect the state from individuals who were not qualified or dangerous in handling sensitive classified state information. 

When the decision to vet the officials was taken a list of 13 executives was sent by Nene's office to SSA to be checked. When Dlamini, who was the project manager of the SSA vetting project, got access to the list of officials it had been extended to include SAA support staff. A total of 118 SAA employees were subjected to the vetting process. 

Hofmeyr and the chairperson of the state capture inquiry, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, pressed Dlamini on whether she or her staff had evaluated whether all those individuals who had to be subjected to the vetting process had actual access sensitive information. Dlamini was unable to answer this and insisted that the vetting was standard. 

Hofmeyr questioned Dlamini on why members of the SAA board had not been subject to the vetting process as they, along with SAA executives, would have access to classified information. Dlamini said that ideally, the board should have, but her department followed the briefing provided which did not include the board. 

"Yes, they should have been vetted (because) their responsibility included having access to classified information," she said. 

The SSA's vetting process includes four stages; the administration phase, the interview phase, the polygraph phase and the analysis stage. Hofmeyr questioned Dlamini on the personal nature of the interview questions posed to SAA employees. 

'Deeply personal' SSA vetting questions in the spotlight 

"You get asked whether your family, brother, sister and parents abused drugs? You get asked whether any of your family members had psychological therapy?" You get asked if you had your life over again would you marry your spouse?" Hofmeyr asked.

"You are asked about whether you are social and go to bars and clubs, you are asked about whether you are the type of person who is impulsive, you are asked which stores you have accounts with, you are asked about whether you attend a church, you are asked about whether you are a member of a political party? You are asked about your role in a political organisation and then you are asked about your personality.

"I read the ones that I saw as extremely personal questions, do you accept that they are?"

"Yes I accept that these questions are deeply personal," Dlamini replied. 

All of the SAA staff members were asked these questions during the vetting process. Seven of those executives resigned based on the questions and personal nature of the process. 

Dlamini admitted that the staff members who were subject to the vetting process were never told of the outcome directly, which is not in accordance with legislation. She said she had informed then-acting SAA CEO Musa Zwane on the results of the vetting process and he had personally assured her that he would give his staff feedback on the results. 

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