Security ministry silent over top spooks

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The Ministry of State Security says it will not yet comment on Sunday press reports that minister Siyabonga Cwele has asked the country’s three top intelligence bosses to quit. “We have taken a decision that we are not going to debate this in the media,” spokesman Brian Dube says.

“But the minister understands that he is accountable to the public and will later put out a statement to address these matters,” he added to the South African Press Association. Dube could not say when a statement would be issued.

City Press reported yesterday that Cwele had asked Gibson Njenje – the head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) – as well as the department’s director general Jeff Maqetuka and the head of the SA Secret Service, Mo Shaik, to quit, but said they had refused and sought legal advice.

According to the Sunday Independent, Njenje, Shaik and Maqetuka recently complained to President Jacob Zuma about difficulties in their relationship with Cwele. Njenje was reportedly unhappy about “unauthorised” operations, including the surveillance of unnamed Cabinet ministers, that flew in the face of his efforts to ensure that the NIA was not exploited for political purposes.

City Press said Njenje was also unhappy about a decision to grant Cwele’s wife Sheryl full intelligence protection throughout her drug trafficking trial. She was found guilty.

On Monday, Njenje’s lawyer said he has not been asked to resign, but there has been talk of shifting him sideways. “That’s not correct (being asked to resign),” Jeff Bortz told SABC radio news in an interview. “According to my client there have been discussions between him and the government regarding a possible alternative position for him in government. Those discussions have not been finalised and so at the moment, Mr Njenje remains in his position.”

Bortz said he did not know the source of the weekend reports on Njenje’s alleged resignation. “One never knows where reports emanate from and how reports come to surface.”

Asked whether the relationship between Njenje and Cwele was strained, he replied: “At the moment, I would imagine [the relationship] to be normal.” The Sunday Independent quoted Njenje as saying: “I am in talks with the minister about things that I can’t talk about. But I am not aware that I have resigned.”

The Cape Times reported on Monday that Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee was likely to discuss the issues raised in the weekend press when it meets on Wednesday.

Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of State Security Dirk Stubbe yesterday in a statement said he had written to Cwele, requesting him to “fully explain what is going on in his department”. Stubbe added that if Njenje “has indeed resigned, he must go quietly so that the department can get on with its job of protecting state security. If Mr Njenje has not resigned, then the minister is lying and it is he who should resign. Either way, this impasse will be resolved if the Minister simply produces a copy of the resignation letter.”