South African president abolishes security ministry, assumes control of spy agencies

Cyril Ramaphosa

IN A SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT last week, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa abolished the country’s Department of State Security and assumed direct control over its spy agencies. The unexpected move was part of an extensive government reshuffle, meant to address the security shortcomings exposed by last month’s riots, which marked the worst political unrest in the country’s post-apartheid history.

Nearly 330 people died, thousands were injured, and thousands of businesses were looted in July, when extensive violent protests erupted in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The riots lasted several days following the jailing of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, for contempt of court. Zuma was facing a high-profile trial for 16 counts of corruption, racketeering, fraud, and money laundering.

In a televised announcement aired live on Thursday, Ramaphosa said he would terminate the post of security minister and abolish the Department of State Security. Instead, the country’s domestic and external intelligence agencies will from now on operate under the office of the presidency and at times report directly to the president. In this way, Ramaphosa aims to assume “political responsibility” for, as well as oversight of, intelligence programs and activities.

In explaining his decision, Ramaphosa said that the South African intelligence agencies had been “found wanting in several respects” during last month’s riots. From now on, instead of a security minister, the work of South African spy agencies will be supervised by the new Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele. His two deputies, Zizi Kodwa and Pinky Kekana, who were also appointed on Thursday, will share the task of supervising the agencies. According to Ramaphosa, the reform will “ensure that the country’s domestic and foreign intelligence services [will] more effectively enable the president to exercise his responsibility to safeguard the security and integrity of the nation”.

Speaking on South African television on Saturday, Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa’s former Minister of Intelligence Services under President Thabo Mbeki, said he supported the move. He added that the country’s leadership had received “poor service” from the intelligence community, especially from the State Security Agency (SSA), during last month’s riots. Kasrils noted that “the centralization of SSA was a good move” because it reflects “best general practice internationally”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 August 2021 | Permalink

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