Reports suggesting South Africa’s intelligence agencies are in fresh turmoil are likely to be discussed by Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) when it convenes on Wednesday.
The committee is supposed to act as a watchdog over the country’s intelligence services. Its chairman, ANC MP Cecil Burgess, confirmed on Sunday that the matter would be raised.
An official silence reigned on Sunday on allegations suggesting a major stand-off between State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and the country’s three top intelligence bosses.
Both The Sunday Independent and City Press reported that ministry spokesman Brian Dube had confirmed on Friday that Gibson Njenje, the head of the State Security Agency (SSA) – previously known as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – had resigned “with immediate effect”.
But the Sunday Independent said Njenje had denied this categorically.
City Press reported that Cwele had also given director-general Jeff Maqetuka and Moe Shaik, the head of the South African Secret Service – which focuses on foreign intelligence – their marching orders.
The newspaper cited a breakdown in trust between the minister and his most senior officials based on his relative lack of experience and understanding of the intelligence environment and his management style.
However, it said the catalyst was unhappiness within the security agency after Cwele allegedly ordered intelligence protection for his wife, Sheryl, during the trial that culminated in her being convicted of drug-smuggling charges. Sheryl Cwele was sentenced to 12 years in jail, against which she is appealing.
The Sunday Independent cited three intelligence sources as saying that Njenje, Maqetuka and Shaik, were not able to relate well to Cwele as they deemed him to be an “intelligence novice”.
It also said speculation in the intelligence community was rife that Njenje had “resigned” in protest over political operations that included surveillance of unnamed ministers and others central to the ANC’s succession battle before its elective conference in December next year.
Former spy boss Billy Masetlha was axed by former president Thabo Mbeki in the run-up to the ANC’s last elective conference in Polokwane in 2007.
A ministerial review commission ordered by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils recommended in September, 2008 a range of far-reaching reforms, including limiting the NIA’s broad intelligence-gathering mandate. It is not clear, however, whether any or all these were implemented.
Ministry spokesman Dube on Sunday did not respond to repeated calls and messages.
Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi said he understood the issue was still “a department matter” and that he expected a statement would be issued at some point.
ANC MP Cecil Burgess, who chairs the JSCI, would not comment further.
DA MP Dirk Stubbe, the party’s spokesman on intelligence and who is a member of the committee, said he had written to Cwele asking him to fully explain what was going on in his department.
“In particular, I have asked the minister to furnish us with National Intelligence Agency head Gibson Njenje’s resignation letter – a document Njenje denies (exists).”
Stubbe said he had sent a copy of his letter to the Inspector General of Intelligence, advocate Faith Radebe, “to keep her abreast of developments and so that she can intervene if necessary”.
“If Mr Njenje has indeed resigned, he must go quietly so that the department can get on with its job of protecting state security.
“If Mr Njenje has not resigned, then the minister is lying and he should resign,” Stubbe said.
Either way, the impasse would be “resolved” if Cwele “simply produces a copy of the resignation letter”.
Stubbe said he was also asking Cwele to explain reported allegations that there had been illegal surveillance of certain ministers and that the ANC Youth League had”unfettered access to state security information”.
Allegations that Cwele ordered special security for his wife during her drug trafficking trial also required investigation, he said.
“We cannot allow the intelligence services to become a tool of factional interests of the ANC (in the run-up to) Mangaung next year,” Stubbe said. - Political Bureau