Who is Thulani Dlomo, the elusive 'Zuma spy’?
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Durban - Former head of counterintelligence at the State Security Agency (SSA) Thulani Dlomo has been in the news frequently over the past few years after it was alleged he swayed the country's intelligence apparatus in favour of former president Jacob Zuma who personally recruited him from a provincial government department in KwaZulu-Natal.
His name was again thrust into the spotlight early this week when a news portal claimed that he was one of the 12 people the State was investigating for their alleged role in stirring the unrest that saw looting and vandalism in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
On Friday Dlomo publicly denied that he was involved. However, in a sudden twist, accompanied by his long-time lawyer, Philani Shangase, the former top spy went to the Durban central police station to meet with the police’s top brass. He left without being charged as his lawyer claimed there is no case registered against him in the database of the SAPS.
Dlomo said he was “pained and dehumanised” to be called a “Zuma spy” after serving the country for more than 20 years.
As South Africans wait to learn the identity of the 12 people who allegedly instigated what President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday night labelled an insurrection, we look at five things we know about Dlomo’s background.
Spooks are by nature secretive but Independent Media was able, during a rare sit-down interview it with him towards the end of October in 2019, to glean some background and insight into Dlomo’s private life.
1. Fast cars and dark clothes
Like a true spy who is always ready to show he pursers a clean pair of heels, Dlomo likes fast German cars. It appears that his favourite brand is Audi and he prefers automatic. He likes wearing dark sunglasses, leather jackets and hats and prefers living in quiet neighbourhoods with high walls and a slew of surveillance cameras, as seen in one of his heavily fortified homes in Durban.
Black seems to be his favourite colour as he is always spotted in social media pictures and in public in clothes of the colour. He describes himself as a “leader, change agent, author, top spy“.
2. A product of the KGB
Like most former Umkhonto we Sizwe operatives integrated after 1994, Dlomo – whose roots, according to those who worked with him in exile is Richmond, are in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands – got the finest training from the KGB, the famed Soviet Union spy agency that gave the US tough times during cold war. It is said he was trained in Russia and East Germany, and specialised in espionage and civic surveillance modules.
3. A stint at the Department of Social Development
Before Dlomo moved to Pretoria to work for the SSA, he worked as the head of security for the Department of Social Development in KwaZulu-Natal. Those who know him closely say his “rare skills” attracted the attention of former president Jacob Zuma such that when Zuma took power in early 2009, he recruited him. Zuma was not comfortable with relying on spies left by the Thabo Mbeki administration as they were allegedly hostile to him, so he brought in the likes of Dlomo and other former MK operatives he had worked with while in exile. Although there was later a fallout with some of them, like Moe Shaik and Jeff Maqetuka, the other spies Zuma brought along, Dlomo remained close to Zuma.
An MK operative living in one of the former coloured suburbs of Durban said what led to Dlomo being called a “Zuma spy” was both professional jealousy and the fear by “some anti-Zulu elements” that Zuma was engaging in “Zulufication of the security cluster” and Dlomo appeared to have the ear of Zuma at all times.
4. Author of The Encounter: Ambassador Thulani Dlomo
In the book, Dlomo says he was appointed South Africa's ambassador to Japan in 2017. That’s not all, Dlomo also says he joined the ANC aged 13 and later went to exile, only to return when the ANC was unbanned and started operating as a legal body. On his return, he worked with leaders of the ANC to establish branches of the governing party in KZN at a time when the province was predominantly a stamping group of IFP.
According to his Facebook account, he wrote a second book titled Education: The Key Tool for Africa's growth.
5. SSA fired him for going AWOL after his recall from Japan
When Dlomo was recalled from his Japan posting, which he took on a secondment basis from the SSA, he allegedly failed to return to his post in Pretoria. That forced the SSA to first cut his salary and medical aid, and later fire him saying he had absconded from work without any reason. However, in an exclusive interview with IOL shortly after he was fired in October 2019, Dlomo and Shangase, his lawyer, said they provided a doctor’s note showing that he was not well. They vowed that they would challenge the sacking at the Durban labour court.
It is not known how far that case has gone.