South Africa spy agency ‘rooting out problems’

South Africa’s state security minister said she’s making headway in turning around the nation’s dysfunctional spy agency in the face of fierce opposition from some of its staff.

The agency tasked with monitoring threats to national stability is being overhauled to try and address management deficiencies and repair deep divisions that arose over almost a decade, Ayanda Dlodlo said in an interview last week. Steps are being taken to end the routine flouting of compliance procedures and reduce a senior-post vacancy rate that reached as high as 60%, she said.

“We are in the process of rooting out those problems” and the State Security Agency will be a different organisation within the next few months, Dlodlo said May 18. “The appointment of competent people in the right spaces, the review of legislation, the appointment of ministerial advisory committees, that work has been done.”

Since being named minister in 2019, Dlodlo said her adversaries – whom she didn’t identify – have spread rumors she’s a gambling addict and is married to a Central Intelligence Agency operative in a bid to force her from office.
Factional Battles

She’s also said a false impression had been created that she was allied to former president Jacob Zuma, whose nine-year rule saw the intelligence services drawn into factional battles within the ruling African National Congress, and widespread looting of state funds.

“In the work of government I have never experienced such hostility, such hate, such push-back,” she said. “I don’t have his number, I don’t even talk to him, but I am still branded as a Jacob Zuma person today.”

Dlodlo, 57, who joined the ANC and its armed wing at the age of 17, was schooled in intelligence in the former Soviet Union, underwent military training in Angola and fought against white-minority rule. She’s also previously worked at port authorities in the US and UK, state-owned South African phone company Telkom SA SOC Ltd and insurer Sanlam Ltd.

Tensions between Dlodlo and SSA management came to a head in January, when its then-acting director-general Loyiso Jafta appeared before a judicial panel probing graft during Zuma’s tenure. His appearance was in defiance of the minister’s order to hold off until she’d given approval.

Zuma Factions

Jafta, who was replaced in March after his term in office ended, testified how the agency helped fund Zuma-aligned ANC factions and backed the party’s election campaigns. Zuma, who was forced by the ruling party to quit in 2018 and was replaced by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, denies any wrongdoing.

The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, accused Dlodlo of trying to gag Jafta and cover up the wrongdoing at SSA during the Zuma era. This month, Intelligence Inspector-general Setlhomamaru Dintwe told the panel headed by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo that Dlodlo had appointed 26 managers without following proper procedures.

Dlodlo hit back in the interview, saying she was willing to present evidence to Zondo behind closed doors, but was concerned national security and the SSA’s relationship with other intelligence agencies could be compromised if it was made public. She also said the law gave her sole prerogative to make SSA appointments, although she had consulted with other officials before signing off.

Some of the testimony given to Zondo, including that 59 billion rand ($4.2 billion) went missing from the SSA, was a “complete fabrication,” and accusations that the agency paid judges to influence the outcome of cases couldn’t be backed up by evidence, the minister said. The alleged misappropriation of funds predated Dlodlo’s term in office.

While speculation has been rife that Ramaphosa is considering making changes to his cabinet and Dlodlo could be replaced, the minister said she’s confident he still has faith in her and supports the changes she’s making.

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South Africa spy agency ‘rooting out problems’