Violent civil unrest sees SA intelligence services under Parliamentary microscope


July’s violent civil unrest which saw over 300 people die and billions of damage to businesses and infrastructure will be interrogated by parliamentarians seeking to establish just how poorly South Africa was served by its intelligence services ahead of two provinces exploding.

A bland Parliamentary statement has it that Jerome Maake, Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) chair, “received approval from the House chairpersons to embark on an inquiry into allegations of intelligence failures”.

The approval comes in the wake of the JSCI “engaging with the intelligence services to perform its oversight role”. No specific service, such as the State Security Agency (SSA) is mentioned but now dismissed SSA minister Ayanda Dlodlo and Police Minister Bheki Cele had a public spat about alleged non-delivery of intelligence reports relating to widespread violence, looting and destruction in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

At its meetings with and briefings by intelligence services, the JSCI indicated there is a need for an inquiry. The inquiry will confine itself to the mandate of the JSCI as contained in the Constitution, applicable legislation and the Joint Rules of Parliament.

“Unlike other parliamentary committees,” the statement says, “the JSCI conducts its activities in closed sessions as guided by the Intelligence Services Oversight Act. Not all information pertaining to the work of the committee may be disclosed to the public. Some information will be in the JSCI annual report.

The “closed” aspect of the JSCI is concerning to Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian Dianne Kohler Barnard, the party’s national intelligence watchdog.

Moving state security to The Presidency she maintains “puts South Africa in serious jeopardy of replaying the catastrophe that was Jacob Zuma and the Security cluster and the increase in the secrecy stranglehold swirling around this group – rather than dealing with the unnecessarily excessive secrecy as condemned in the High-Level Report into the SSA”.

The report compiled by Sidney Mufamudi reflects challenges in the intelligence services and what needs to be done. Importantly, the Legacy Report of the Fifth Parliament indicates the same challenges. The JSCI is concerned with slow implementation of the recommendations and has expressed its position to the implementing authorities.”

This was why several special meetings were held in Pretoria with the Minister of State Security (presumably Dlodlo) and the SSA, even at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The committee continues to urge the SSA to implement recommendations without delay and continue reporting on a quarterly basis.

The statement gives no indication of when the inquiry will start, how long it will last and when and what information is garners will be made public.

Kohler Barnard suggests creating a Standing Committee on The Presidency. This she sees as having oversight powers “over all affairs of a presidency”.

“Shifting state security to the President will not decrease the levels of secrecy or decrease public suspicion,” she said.