Our constitution is clear on the role of the intelligence community

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Sometimes reading articles in the mainstream media, especially those labelled “analysis”, make for fascinating reading. Fascinating for just how fake they can be. One wonders where these authors get their information from.

Take for example Sarah Evans, “analysis” on “No one is watching the watchers – why we should be worried.” Evans commences her piece on the destructive role played by the apartheid government’s use of “the country’s security apparatus to crush dissent and entrench its brutal regime.” 

Yet one doubt’s whether Neil Barnard would testify that this was the only role played by the intelligence services. If anything, a careful read of both his books, “Secret Revolution: Memoirs of a Spy Boss” and “Peaceful revolution: Inside the War Room at the Negotiations”, one would soon discover the positive role played by the NIA in the lead up to negotiations for a democratic South Africa. Very few would disagree that it was NIA’s role that led to negations between the ANC and De Klerk’s apartheid regime. 

In fact, Barnard relays how Nelson Mandela came up to him, after the latter’s release from prison and just before the negations, saying: “Doctor [Barnard], the two of us should never forget that we made this historical meeting possible.”  

The role of NIA was therefore deeply political and this is the second fascinating aspect of Evan’s observation: that the politicisation of the intelligence services in our country is not something that had its genesis post 1994. Mind you, a fact completely missed by the High level Report into the SSA. No, NIA played a fundamentally political role and, again judging from Barnard’s writings, one would see this political role played by even organisations such as the CIA and KGB in effecting political change within their own and other countries.

The obvious question therefore must be: can an intelligence service ever be “apolitical”? On supposes only those who have no experience in politics and/or intelligence will answer “yes” to that question. One also finds it fascinating that Evans would refer to Chapter 11 of the Constitution of the Republic (not actually section 11a, as Evans has it), section 198a but completely ignore section 209 which in fact deals with the intelligence services.

Instead, Evans relies on the opinion of an unnamed spook who suggested, according to Evans, “there was no need for a minister, and that the Constitution does not envisage that appointment.” This is factually incorrect. 

Instead, section 209 (2) of the Constitution is emphatic: “The President as head of the national executive must appoint a woman or a man as head of each intelligence service established in terms of subsection (1), and must either assume political responsibility for the control and direction of any of those services, or designate a member of the Cabinet to assume that responsibility.”

Put plainly, contrary to the opinion of the unnamed spook, the Constitution does actually envisage a member of cabinet with that responsibility. Again, according to Evans according to this former spy, with “intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the SSA” (see how clumsy this is getting: she said, he said), “..this is what former president Nelson Mandela tried to do, he said, but subsequent administrations saw things differently…”

Again, this is factually incorrect. By 1995, President Mandela had appointed Joe Nhlanhla as deputy-minister of justice with the sole reusability of intelligence. Nhlanhla served under Dullah Omar who was the minister of justice at the time.

To answer Ms Evans question, for which no analysis is really needed, the Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI) is the constitutionally endowed organ, among others, which must give oversight to the intelligence community. If only though our IGI was focussed on his job instead of seeking to settle political scores and dig up old investigations, settled already by his predecessors, then he would have a bit more time to do his job.


Meokgo Matuba is Secretary General of the ANC Women’s League.