George Matlala and Moffet Mofokeng
THE ANC succession battle has almost claimed one major casualty – the director-general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Gibson Njenje.
Brian Dube, spokesman for State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, told The Sunday Independent yesterday that Njenje had resigned – a statement Njenje rejected outright.
Speculation in the intelligence community went into overdrive on Friday and yesterday that Njenje had resigned in protest over political operations that included surveillance on unnamed ministers and other people who are involved in the ANC succession battle.
The respected spy chief was said to have resigned after months of an acrimonious relationship with President Jacob Zuma and State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele over the direction that the NIA ought to take ahead of the ANC centenary elective conference in Mangaung.
Dube told The Sunday Independent that Njenje had quit but refused to be drawn on the circumstances under which he was alleged to have resigned. “The minister (Cwele) has accepted the resignation and thanked Mr Njenje for his services and contribution to the national project of securing the country, its people and the constitutional order. He resigns to pursue other interests. We do not wish to be drawn to the other issues which are speculations,” said Dube.
A calm Njenje appeared baffled: “I have not resigned. Brian is not telling the truth. If he says I have resigned, ask him nicely to show you a letter of my resignation.”
Dube said the minister stood by the statement despite Njenje’s denial that he had resigned.
“As the department we stand by the statement. There is nothing else to say.”
The Sunday Independent can, however, reveal that Njenje, Head of State Security Agency Jeff Maqetuka and Moe Shaik, the head of Secret Service Agency, visited Zuma at the Union Buildings a few months ago to complain against Cwele, who, it is believed, had difficulty “engaging” with the three senior officials and sometimes did not follow channels when he had requests to make.
Njenje is said to have complained to Zuma about some unauthorised political operations a few months ago, in a move that apparently soured his relationship with Cwele.
The Sunday Independent can also reveal that Njenje wrote some letters tabulating his concerns about his relationship with Cwele. It is not clear whether or not Cwele took some of the letters to mean that Njenje wanted out of the intelligence outfit. But Njenje did not mince his words yesterday, saying: “I am planning to go to work on Monday. I am in talks with the minister about things I can’t talk about. But I am not aware that I have resigned”.
Three intelligence sources told The Sunday Independent that Njenje, Maqetuka and Shaik, considered senior in terms of their knowledge and expertise in intelligence and politics than Cwele, were not able to relate to the minister well because they believed him to be an “intelligence novice”.
“Look, these men are senior spooks. They did not apply for these posts. They were approached and asked to come and serve.
“For Njenje, he promised to make sure the Farm (NIA HQ) was not used for political purposes in the same way that it was ahead of that Polokwane conference. If he leaves or is pushed before his contract expires, you can see what that means,” said a source.
Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj referred questions to Zanele Mngadi, who is another spokesman in the Presidency. Mngadi deferred questions to Dube. “State security is the right department to speak to,” she said.
In a battle that increasingly mirrors the road to the watershed Polokwane in 2007, when spy boss Billy Masetlha was sacked by former president Thabo Mbeki, Njenje apparently felt he would not allow Cwele to interfere.
Another source close to the story said: “The NIA has the mandate of monitoring political stability, but has no will to do so. The place is fractured into a thousand pieces. You have cabals in Luthuli (House) trying to instigate focus towards other groups.”
Political strategies, it appeared from several sources, were being derived from intelligence information gathered in ways that appear to have pushed Njenje over the cliff.
That he believes he has not resigned, while Cwele’s spokesman says he has, might point to Pretoria’s attitude towards the top spy and, by extension, Zuma’s attitude.
“Is Cwele fighting his own battle with Njenje or is he doing his bidding for the old man?” asked another source.
In the run up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference, the NIA was split between the spies who supported Zuma and those who backed Mbeki.
In 2005, Njenje, along with former spy boss Billy Masetlha and Bob Mhlanga, who is now Cwele’s advisor, were suspended following an investigation by the inspector general of intelligence that found Njenje and Masetlha had taken part in the unauthorised surveillance of former ANC NEC member and businessman Saki Macozoma.