One of the reported targets of the terror threat the US government was warning about this past weekend was a run of shows in Sandton hosted by Jewish comedian Nik Rabinowitz.
Nik was having none of it. He thought the PR was a gift from Hashem. Tickets were selling like hot latkes. He told me the only threat he had received was from a woman in Sandton who warned him he better have new material for his show.
I asked him if the authorities had spoken to him about the threat. Im sure they will issue a warning in a few months time so I dont expect to hear from them until September 2023, he joked.
This was funny, but also not. The joke works because it plays on the popular public view that in South Africa, our intelligence is rubbish and our security apparatus would only hear about a threat a year after it happens. Truthfully, thats terrifying.
This is why when the US issued the warning last week, many of the South Africans I was engaging with werent sure how to react. Surely the US has better intel than us? It also explains why government officials led by the President were so eager to downplay the warning and assure the country that local authorities were in control of the situation.
Just because nothing happened on Saturday, doesnt mean there wasnt a legitimate threat. It just means the very public warning may have deterred or delayed an operation.
South Africans have good reason to doubt the efficiency and capability of our intelligence service. The track record over the past few years speaks for itself.
A report by a ten-person review panel, headed by Sydney Mufamadi and appointed by the President, found widespread abuse of the intelligence services and that it was being used to fight internal ANC factional battles.The report reads: It is clear from the above information and other information available to the panel that [it] had largely become a parallel intelligence structure serving a faction of the ruling party and, in particular, the personal political interests of the sitting president of the party and country.
It was a scathing report of former President Jacob Zuma and how he made changes to the intelligence structure and there was executive interference in the workings of SSA.
The panel recommended that the SSA had to be restructured into two services a domestic and a foreign service.
Then last year the high-level panel led by Professor Sandy Africa, also made damning findings about the failures of the intelligence structures around the July unrest. The plotters of the unrest ran circles around our security officials. The report found that there was a significant failure by intelligence to anticipate, prevent or disrupt the orchestrated violence.
The intelligence appreciation and interpretation of what was building up happened too late, if at all; and as a result, the security services failed to put in place the necessary interventions to detect and disrupt the plans.If you want a practical example of how poor our intelligence is, suggested a voice note on The Midday Report this week, just look at how Shepherd Bushiri was able to spirit himself out of the country without authorities any the wiser.
With full knowledge of how broken the intelligence systems are in the country, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo made key recommendations to the President about what to do.
In his response to Zondo, President Ramaphosa vowed to overhaul the SSA as per the commissions recommendations.
This included the disestablishment of the SSA and the creation of a domestic and foreign intelligence service.
Ramaphosa said the SSAs new leadership was developing a comprehensive response to the recommendations of the commission.
This included ensuring that the President, a minister, or a deputy was not involved in the operational matters of the SSA.
Ramaphosa also promised that a new national security policy and a new intelligence bill, which would dissolve the SAA, would reach Parliament by March 2023.
The President also acted this week in officially appointing Imtiaz Fazel as the new inspector general of intelligence. The post had been vacant since March this year.
According to the Presidency, the appointment is a continuation of the attention Ramaphosa is giving to efforts to strengthen the capability of the state, including the security sector.
The former head of the domestic branch of the SSA, Advocate Mahlodi Muofhe, says that the President is indeed ticking a number of boxes to improve the security cluster. These include making the Investigating Directorate permanent and giving it investigative powers and making Andrea Johnson the head of the ID. All of this he says shows that there is political will from the president to ensure that we win over the scourge of corruption.Muofhe argues that South Africans should have faith in our intelligence structures as the President attempts to reorganise and rebuild.
I think South Africans must honestly have faith in their own countrys institutions. Our country is stable, yes we do have problems here and there but the fact of the matter is even as our president is renewing and reconstructing the security cluster, the integrity of our country is still intact and even that threat which in my view, even as the president said, was an uncalled for panic, but the reality is that the security cluster as a whole, fitting into one puzzle, it is always on alert.
South Africans must not be bystanders in the interest of their country, they must participate in ensuring they support these institutions so together we can build and renew our country, says Muofhe.
The President is doing the work to close the gaps. His response to the Zondo commission demonstrates that.
The real challenge now is convincing the people of South Africa to have faith and to believe in the capabilities of our institutions instead of them becoming the butt of comedians jokes.
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