This is why SA’s spies snoozed through the riots: expert

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This is why SA’s spies snoozed through the riots: expert

Parliament sets up probe to find out what has gone wrong with the groups that are meant to protect us

Senior reporter
Factories, such as this one in Sea Cow Lake, Durban, were destroyed in the unrest. Parliament has ordered an inquiry into the unrest in which SA's intelligence services were caught completely off-guard.
Factories, such as this one in Sea Cow Lake, Durban, were destroyed in the unrest. Parliament has ordered an inquiry into the unrest in which SA's intelligence services were caught completely off-guard.
Image: Darren Stewart/Reuters

Parliament has given the green light for an investigation into the intelligence failures that caught SA’s security agencies on the back foot when violence erupted in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in July.

Joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) chairperson Jerome Maake will lead the inquiry into the failures, which allowed a rebellion to foment under the noses of the country’s security establishment.

The push to hold an inquiry followed meetings between the JSCI and intelligence services on July 15 and 16 in line with the committee’s oversight role.

The committee was concerned that various recommendations made in the earlier high-level review panel report, as well a previous report by parliament, on the challenges facing the intelligence services had not been implemented, said committee spokesperson Faith Ndenze.

“The JSCI is, however, concerned with the slow implementation of the recommendations and has expressed its position to the appropriate implementing authorities,” she said.

“The committee continues to urge the SSA to implement the recommendations without delay and to continue reporting on a quarterly basis.”

The committee was also awaiting the report from the state capture commission on the breakdown in SA’s intelligence services.

This eroded the whole crime intelligence unit from national to local level. It never fully recovered. There was a number of short-term heads but they didn’t last long.
ISS security and policing consultant Dr Johan Burger

ISS security and policing consultant Dr Johan Burger alleged the failings in the SAPS Crime Intelligence unit were the result of actions taken by former unit head Richard Mdluli.

A report compiled by Maj-Gen Mark Henkel, one of the generals in the unit and acting head when Mdluli was absent, described widespread looting of millions of rand from the police secret service account, jobs for friends and family and the abuse of safe houses which would otherwise have been used in operations or for witness protection. “Those houses became their homes, and the secret services account paid for those homes,” said Burger. 

Meanwhile, honest cops were driven out of the service, he said.  

When Mdluli briefly returned to work after his suspension was lifted, he axed Henkel and a number of other generals and senior staff whom he accused of “back-stabbing” him.

“This eroded the whole crime intelligence unit from national to local level,” said Burger.

“It never fully recovered. There was a number of short-term heads but they didnt last long.”

When Peter Jacobs took over as head of the unit in 2019, he was faced with the challenge of identifying Mdlulis appointees and to determine if the hirings were legal. 

“He made a range of enemies because he was cleaning up crime intelligence,” said Burger.

These problems continued to undermine the units performance.

Along with the failings in the State Security Agency (SSA), this meant there was ineffective intelligence gathering.

The JSCI probe will be held behind closed doors though some of its findings will be made public.


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