Welile Nhlapo appointed National Security Special Adviser


President Jacob Zuma has appointed the current South African ambassador Welile Nhlapo as his new National Security Special Adviser and former transport minister Mac Maharaj as Special Envoy.

Zuma’s office, making the announcement on Friday, said the Presidency “will be greatly strengthened by these appointments. Both individuals bring to their positions extensive experience, expertise and knowledge.”

Nhlapo has previously served as Special Envoy to Burundi. He was the head of the technical team that assisted then-Deputy President Zuma in peace negotiations there.

After going went into exile in Botswana in 1974, Nhlapo served as the ANC Chief Representative in Botswana and joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1994.

In 1995 he was appointed South African Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

The Presidency notes in a potted biography that in 1998 he was appointed Deputy Director-General responsible for Africa in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In 2001 he was appointed Head of the Presidential Support Unit which advised the Presidency on conflict situations in Africa and the Middle East. He assumed the post of Ambassador to the US in August 2007.

Maharaj was Minister of Transport in the administration of Nelson Mandela. He played a key role in the negotiation process that led the way to South Africa’s first democratic elections, and was joint secretary in 1994 of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC).

A political activist since the early 1950s, he was a member of the African National Congress’ armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe. He went into exile in 1976 after escaping from the house arrest order that was immediately imposed on him in Durban after serving 12 years imprisonment.

After 12 years in exile, Maharaj returned to South Africa as commander of Operation Vula. He served on the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) and was a member of the SA Communist Party’s Political bureau and Central Committee.

Nhlapo and Maharaj’s exact mandates were not announced, although the former will likely play a role on the Cabinet-level National Security Council (NSC).

The NSC was the result of a Cabinet investigation set up in late 1999 to “investigate how the concept of national security should be reflected in the structure of the country and how this relates to operational security coordination,” according to a November 2000 ad hoc publication by the Institute of Strategic Studies at the University of Pretoria.

The publication said that a distinction was drawn “between the broad and narrow concepts of security and the result was an integrated, multi-departmental national security coordination structure” to address:

  • The need for coordination of intelligence and security operations.

  • The need for liaison with and between the Cabinet clusters in relation to national security issues.

  • The need for a structure that can be convened with speed.

  • The need for a strategic body with regard to national security issues affecting SA.

Approved by Cabinet in June 2000, the NSC identified four “enduring key interests” for SA and noted these “interests and supporting objectives are interrelated and mutually reinforcing and each should be interpreted and understood in relation to the others.” They were:

  • The survival and defence of SA, its values and institutions and the safety of its people; (SA`s national values are recorded in Chapter 1 of the 1996 Constitution);

  • Sustainable economic growth and development in SA and the region;

  • A peaceful and stable international environment; and

  • Engagement with and participation in the international community.

ISSUP director Professor Mike Hough wrote that the “adoption of the wide definition of security means that any issue that could impact on the quality of life of the inhabitants of SA is a security issue.

“The national security management structure must therefore enable effective measures to deal with routine, day-to-day issues and with crises.

“Most issues that impact on national interests and security in the broad sense are dealt with on a routine basis by government departments and do not require an urgent, concerted and coordinated response at a national level, except in the context of crises.

“The scale and urgency of a matter may, however, elevate its status to a point where an extraordinary response is required. The main focus areas are expected to be internal stability; disaster relief within SA; international obligations; [the] defence of SA` and big event security.

Issues that may require coordination at a national level include a combination of, but not necessarily be, confined to the following:

  • High impact on the quality of life;

  • High impact on SA`s international standing;

  • High impact on SA`s values and interests;

  • The use of threat or force;

  • The non-routine nature of the event or issue;

  • The urgency of an issue; and

  • High impact on regional security.

“It was argued that mechanisms designed for the routine, day-to-day management of government affairs may not have the agility and rapid response capability to effectively deal with such matters,” Hough said.

The NSC was therefore “created to ensure a rapid, coordinated and effective response to critical threats to the security of SA and its people.

“The NSC will be a vehicle for the protection of SA citizens and the democratic order, and is designed to enhance the effectivity (sic) of the President and Cabinet in relation to national security issues.

NSC “not a parallel structure”

Hough says there was an effort to ensure the NSC is compatible with SA`s democratic principles, in particular in ensuring that the supremacy of the Constitution, the powers of Parliament and the authority of the President and Cabinet are not eroded “in any way” as was the case with the State Security Council of the apartheid state.

Because of the “qualitative difference” between the NSC`s activities and those of Cabinet as well as the Cabinet clusters, the NSC will operate in parallel with Cabinet and the clusters but will not be a parallel bureaucracy.

The Cabinet report noted the constitutional basis for SA`s national security policy as well as the constitutional provisions for both creating such a body as well as for preventing its abuse.

Hough writes that the NSC will be convened by the President. The deputy president is a permanent member and the core ministries are those tasked with policing, defence, intelligence, foreign affairs, home matters, finance and justice. Other ministries are to be co-opted as required.


The function of the NSC are said to include:

  • Developing national security policy in general and with regard to specific issues which cannot be
    dealt with by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security or or International Cooperation, Trade and Security Cabinet clusters;

  • To prioritise national and foreign security issues for the attention of Cabinet;

  • Exercising an early warning function with respect to potential threats to national interests and security;

  • Providing policy guidelines for planning to meet urgent and/or severe threats to security;

  • Approving plans and programmes of action regarding such threats;

  • To direct, monitor and evaluate the execution of such plans;

  • Developing appropriate responses to crises;

  • Coordinating assistance to other governments in crisis situations; and

  • Liaising with Cabinet cluster committees in relation to coordination of their activities regarding security issues.


Hough says the NSC is backed by a national security directors-general`s (DG) committee that provides a “forum for coordination between DGs as required” and “serve as an essential link to the operational structures that will execute the decisions of the NSC.

One of these structures is
the “JOINTS” (




tructure), the composition of which is “determined according to the issue.” One example of this is the Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee (BCOCC), an “affiliated structure of the JCPS Cluster” and mandated in 2005 “to strategically manage the South African port of entry environment in a coordinated manner”.

Hough concludes that the existence of this structure obviates the need for a US-style “Department of Homeland Security”, a vast and clumsy bureaucracy set up by US President George W Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.