Social media can sometimes offer one gems. Recently a post by a friend on Facebook tells of the 19th century legend between the Truth and the Lie. The two spend the day together until they reach a well. The Lie tells the Truth: “Lets take a bath together!” Truth, being suspicious, tests the water and finds the water very nice. They both undress and start bathing. 

Suddenly, the Lie jumps out of the water, puts on the clothes of the Truth and runs away. The furious Truth comes out of the well and runs everywhere looking for the Lie to get her clothes back. But the World, seeing the Truth naked, turns its gaze away with contempt and rage. The poor Truth returns to the well and disappears in it forever, hiding therein with its shame. Since then the Lie, travels the world, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society, because the World, in any case, harbours no wish or will to meet the naked Truth. 

It is based on this legend that the French painter and sculptor, Jean-Léon Gérôme, painted his famous painting, “The Truth coming out of the well” in 1896.

This legend is particularly pertinent as we find ourselves within a post-truth society. Often what appears to be the truth is not it at all. It is a lie that it is dressed up as the truth and this legendary tale reminds us of that oft repeated fallacy whereby if a lie is told often enough it will become the truth. A lie remains a lie even if we attempt to masquerade it as the truth. We may create the illusions, the smokes and mirrors but invariably the truth will prevail and we must ensure that we are able to recognise it, in its nakedness and not turn our faces away in shame. 

In the last few months, among the many stories that catch our attention as a nation, the release of the book, “The President’s Keepers”, by Jacques Pauw, and the subsequent redeployment of the Director General of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, has once again shone the light on two pivotal institutions of our democracy. 

In his replying affidavit to the founding affidavit, in the application brought by the Democratic Alliance for the court to review and set aside the appointment of Mr Fraser as the National Commissioner of Correctional Services, President Ramaphosa once again highlights just how important both role of the DG of the SSA is as well as that of the Inspector General of Intelligence. 

At the same time, the President is at pains to indicate in his affidavit that he had instructed a review of all DG’s on his assuming of the office of President of the Republic and that the redeployment of Mr Fraser has to be seen within this context. 

What is the naked truth in this sorry saga? Firstly, the investigation launched by the IGI into the then DG of SSA was not a new one and that such an investigation had already taken place, completed and a finding had been made. The former IGI, Faith Radebe, had investigated the allegations regurgitated in the book, “The President’s Keepers”, and had exonerated Arthur Fraser. 

Secondly, Fraser, who had been DDG at the time of that investigation and finding, was exonerated by the very instrument in our constitution which oversees the intelligence community namely, the IGI. This exoneration was then followed by his booting former President Zuma who, at the time, viewed Fraser with suspicion at the time, only to be re-appointed by Zuma again in September 2016, realising the factional nature of his firing 5 years earlier. In 2016 the DA mounted no challenge to his appointment. 

The DA should have objected then if they thought him not to be fit and proper for the role as DG of SSA national commissioner. The DA was certainly well aware that Fraser had been appointed to the post, as DG of SSA, as one of their senior parliamentarians had noted the appointment in the National Assembly and hansard is available to back this.

Thirdly, the DA’s application into the “fitness” of Arthur Fraser is based on “The President’s Keepers” and no new evidence to question his conduct or fitness to hold the office has been forthcoming and found. As mentioned, Fraser was cleared by the former IGI to the extent that he could be promoted to becoming DG without any legal objections from the DA at the time. In fact, there exists no adverse finding against Arthur Fraser at all.

Finally, quoting the Public Services Act, President Ramaphosa was legally well within his right to negotiate and execute laterally the transfer of a DG to that of the national commissioner. 

Even more so, President Ramaphosa states in his affidavit that the court cannot act on the basis of “hearsay allegations made in Mr Pauw’s book”. Thus confirming that the book is based on nothing more than hearsay. 

The question now becomes as to whether the current IGI, who is investigating allegations that have already been made and ruled on, will make a finding different to the one made by his predecessor, Ms Radebe. It is difficult to understand why he would even see it necessary to re-investigate the matter unless he was succumbing to the wish of society, simply to satisfy its needs, for it harbours no wish or desire to see the naked truth.

Between these scripts, smokes, screens and spooks, South Africans will need to make up their own minds in determining the lie dressed up in the clothes of the truth or the naked truth itself. Our very important, democratic institutions depend on it. As much as we must question and be able to hold our intelligence services accountable, for this is a pivotal pillar of any democracy, so too we must ask: who holds accountable those tasked with holding the SSA  accountable? Who holds the IGI accountable? 

Neither the president nor the minister is empowered to hold the IGI accountable. Is it parliament that must hold the inspectorate accountable and why has no questions been asked into the fitness and properness of the IGI when a serious allegation was made against him; the allegation that got him his security clearance revoked in the first place.

The reality of course is that any democratic state, in which the pillars of accountability and transparency are pivotal, cannot operate without secrets. To quote Winston Churchill, an authority on democracy, who ambiguously said: “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft”. Yes, the secrets on how to build a state but also the secrets of state. Statecraft simply cannot happen without secrets.

If anyone fears Arthur Fraser then we must assume they fear the truth. To attempt to silence Arthur Fraser is to attempt to silence the truth. Yet the truth hides in the secrecy of the well. When faced with her, we must be able to look at her unashamedly. If we don’t, we will continue to succumb to lies dressed up in the cloaks of truth, hearsay, and our democracy will be the poorer because of it. 

Wesley Seale is a PhD Candidate at Beiwai University in Beijing, China 

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