Some of the evidence that has been led at the Zondo Commission extends to allegations of impropriety in our intelligence services. The evidence, which includes allegations that there were intelligence projects to influence judges and the media as well as the diversion of intelligence resources for the sole purpose of benefitting one person – former president Jacob Zuma, have raised questions about whether state secrets have a place in a democratic order. In fact, Sydney Mufamadi who chaired a high-level review of our intelligence services has argued very strongly that there should be no secrets at all. But, what has South African citizens worried is what appears to have been a disregard for financial management and good governance prescripts in the disbursement of funds to intelligence operatives and their projects. It seems in some cases these intelligence operatives had access to millions of Rads in a climate of weak or non-existent financial accounting systems. If these allegations are true, another important question arises: Are lapses in the intelligence environment not a function of a lack of institutional certainty, which institutional uncertainty is itself a function of political uncertainty as a by-product of factional dynamics in the dominant party – the African National Congress (ANC)? In short, we must accept that the link between single-party dominance, the lack of substantive uncertainty that is caused by it in our electoral politics and institutional uncertainty has probably compromised state security, national security, the public interest and, therefore, the national interest. In our intelligence environment, the confluence of a narrow focus on state security and the extent to which parts of our intelligence services may have mirrored the factional dynamics in the ruling party may have caused to emerge a climate in which state intelligence capacity was rented out to political interests.
On a personal note: in 2006, I, together with three other political analysts, was invited to make a presentation to the political section of what was then the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Our brief was to analyse the succession battle in the ANC which had taken the form of a factional battle between the supporters of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. The two men were at the centre of a bruising leadership contest that was tearing the ruling party apart. That the NIA had invited political analysts to brief them about the Mbeki-zuma factional dynamic came as no surprise to me. What shocked me is what happened when i finished talking. In my presentation, I had argued that those who were in the intelligence apparatus of the liberation movement, apartheid intelligence and homeland intelligence structures were the midwives of our democratic dispensation. This I said because of the manner in which these intelligence groupings shepherded and defended the negotiation process from the many threats that could have collapsed it. I then argued that, because they had played this critical role and were, therefore, part of the forces that delivered the 1994 democratic breakthrough, it was incumbent on them to protect our nascent democracy. This, I said they were not going to achieve by becoming part of factional battles in the ANC. As I concluded my presentation, several hands shot up and I had an attack of vanity and, mistakenly, thought i was about to experience an avalanche of praise and kind words. It was not to be. Those who had raised their hands argued vehemently that i was wrong to characterise them as professional intelligence agents who, in defence of our democracy, must be non-partisan. They insisted that, as revocrats (revolutionary bureaucrats) their job was to defend the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). I then pointed out that it was not true that, by aligning themselves with the Zuma and Mbeki camps, they were defending the NDR. I thought it obvious that such conduct by intelligence operatives would constitute a threat to national and state security and was, therefore, not in the national interest. I lost the debate and i have been worried about the state of our intelligence services ever since.
We must not forget that my presentation to these intelligence operatives came two years after the Hefner Commission which investigated the allegation that former National Prosecuting Authority head, Bulelani Ngcuka, was an apartheid spy. This allegation was made by Mac Maharaj and Mo Shaik who were part of the ANC’s intelligence and underground structures during apartheid. For me, the issue was less about the veracity of the claims against Ngcuka but much more about what I thought was problematic about the whole saga. Ngcuka had obviously invited the ire of Shaik and Maharaj because he was seen as being integral to what was seen as a political conspiracy against Zuma who, at the time, enjoyed the loyal support of the two men. My concern centred around the use of an intelligence database that the two men had access to because of their positions in the ANC. More important, though, was my concern that Maharaj and. Shaik did this in pursuit of what was the narrow political goal of defending Zuma. Today, we have two problems: First, the use of state intelligence and other resources to fight political battles in the ruling party. Second, the use of ANC intelligence and other non-state resources by those who are not in the state in pursuit of narrow political ends. The intersection of the two tendencies constitutes a grave threat to our democracy.
My fears are even more heightened at the moment because our intelligence services are in possession of files that supposedly contain the names of ANC leaders and members who were apartheid spies. The files are supposed to be declassifies this year. Also, we must not forget that, acting for his client and former head of intelligence, Arthur Fraser, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, told the Zondo Commission that his client will reveal state secrets about judges, heads of state – current and former – as well as members of parliament. In other words, we are heading towards a perfect storm of allegations and counter-allegations. If i am correct, this will lead to the further poisoning of our politics and, therefore, further illustrate the extent to which the problems in our intelligence environment are but symptoms of a deeper malaise – single-party dominance. Therefore, our remedies must address two things: First, how to make our politics more democratic and our electoral politics competitive. Second, how to insulate our democratic experience from the vicissitudes of single-party dominance. It must be towards the achievement of this goal that we ask the question: What must we do to shield our democracy from lapses in integrity in the intelligence environment?
The first thing we must do is to reconceptualise intelligence. We must go back to the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter says, “The People Shall Govern”. The interests of the people must govern the work of our intelligence services. Central to their work, therefore, must be to act in defence of that which is in the interests of citizens – the people. To conceive of intelligence in this way, is to understand that state security must be defined in ways that are subordinate to national security as a subset of the national interest. Such a conception of intelligence would therefore imbue us with an understanding of national security that is not reduced and limited to the imperative of securitisation and the protection of state secrets. This would be an understanding of national security that, for instance, that is inclusive of impact and threat analyses of climate change. It is a conception of intelligence and threat analyses that, for example, would partly rely on indigenous knowledge. With such an understanding of intelligence will come threat assessments and responses to such threats which include threats to public health and public health systems. Ultimately, our intelligence services must exist as extensions of our democratic imperative as well as an important line of defence in our democracy.
To end, let me go back to my presentation to the political section of the NIA in 2006.: At the end of the session, the head of the political section offered to drive me back to my office at the Centre for Policy Studies in Rosebank. At first, I thought of the offer as an act of kindness. A few kilometres into our trip, he asked me a question that remains pertinent: “What do you think of KwaZulu-Natal?” I knew what he was asking me but decided to play with him for a minute or two. So, in reply I said, “You are the agent and I am just a civilian. I should be asking you.” “Humour me”, he said with a smile. I then proceeded to tell him that the fact that peace in KwaZulu-Natal was achieved without a disarmament process had been the cause of many a sleepless night. That remains the case to this day. But KwaZulu-Natal is not the only part of South Africa where peace after the political violence of the eighties and early nineties was achieved without a disarmament process. This means that we can safely assume that there are arms caches lying undiscovered in different parts of the country. Looking at some of the current developments in our politics, I have no doubt that a non-partisan and professional intelligence service must be integral to all efforts aimed at defending our democracy.
Aubrey Matshiqi is a seasoned political analyst and writes in his personal capacity.