Ambassador Mzuvukile Maqetuka gave testimony to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Friday (July 10). Maqetuka was director-general (DG) of the State Security Agency (SSA) from 2009 to his retirement in 2012.
Maqetuka briefed the commission of his long journey in the world of intelligence. He was recalled as ambassador to Algeria by former president Jacob Zuma to take up the post of DG of the newly formed SSA. Appointed with him were Mo Shaik (head of the foreign branch), and Gibson Njenje (head of the domestic branch) – ‘The Top Three’.
Minister of intelligence at the time was Dr Siyabonga Cwele.
A White Paper on Intelligence was drafted in 1994, which set out the philosophy, structure and code of conduct of the security agency. A new culture of intelligence was to be established, not only concentrating on traditional areas such as military security, but also dealing with the wellbeing of citizens.
As the Top Three had not been briefed as to the new philosophy of the SSA when they were appointed, they resorted to the principles set out in the White Paper.
It was evident to Maqetuka that after the 52nd ANC National Conference in 2007 (Polokwane), the new regime wanted to change everything about the old. A fundamental change was that state security replaced national security.
The functions of intelligence in a democratic country
Maqetuka emphasised that Intelligence must primarily serve the interests of the people. He gave an outline of Intelligence over the course of his testimony:
- It covers political, economic, and technological risks.
- It cannot be separated from policymakers. The one informs the other.
- Secrecy should be balanced with transparency. Classified documents must eventually be declassified, so that the public can have access. Except where declassification would jeopardise the work of the operatives in the field.
- Political neutrality is absolutely critical in a democratic country, and Intelligence must move away from ‘cloak and dagger’ situations requiring the wearing of dark glasses and long coats.
- An intelligence organisation should not be allowed to carry out activities that are intended to influence one political party at the expense of another, by covert acts, or means of disinformation. Maqetuka is of the firm view that putting disinformation out would be treason.
- Intelligence is the prime institution that would warn government of any threats to the country’s security, such as corruption.
Maqetuka said it is a problem where the minister of intelligence is also a member of the executive committee of the ANC, as the minister takes his line of duty from his political party and must follow the party line. A policymaker may want to interfere in the work that Intelligence is doing.
Shaik in his testimony to the commission flagged this: “Does the country need a ministry for intelligence?”
The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI)
The JSCI, a parliamentary body comprising all the political parties, ensures accountability and parliamentary oversight. Or so it should.
Maqetuka gave an account of an intensive two-day meeting the Top Three had with the JSCI to discuss “stumbling blocks” to their operations. There was no follow up by the JSCI. Their concerns were ignored.
Judge Raymond Zondo pondered where the oversight bodies were, and suggested that they should come forward to the commission and present their version of events.
Zondo: “You don’t have to come to the commission to defend, you can also come to the commission to be held accountable [saying] ‘here is where we have gone wrong, and we accept responsibility, but we also want to offer suggestions so that it doesn’t happen again’.”
The Gupta family
Maqetuka said ‘the Americans’ had flagged the Gupta family to the SSA when they purchased the Shiva Uranium mine in 2010 as they believed the deal had been financed by Iran.
Maqetuka said he had never met the Gupta brothers and wouldn’t be able to tell the one from the other, “but, same difference”.
Maqetuka also referred to the “Mbalula incident”, where one of the Gupta brothers had told (current Minister of Transport) Fikile Mbalula that he was going to be appointed minister of sport, before Zuma had made the announcement.
The fact that an outsider knew of the appointment indicated a serious security issue.
Maqetuka instructed Njenje to conduct an investigation into the Guptas, as he was concerned that their relationship with Zuma would tarnish the then-president’s name.
Cwele objected to Gupta investigation
Cwele in a meeting with the Top Three (around 2010/2011) said that he objected to the Gupta investigation, which was being conducted by the domestic branch of intelligence. Cwele was of the view that the investigation was not being pursued bona fide, and accused Njenje of protecting his own business interests.
He never outlined what Njenje’s alleged business interests were.
Cwele was asked to substantiate his allegations and provide evidence, but failed to do so.
He never gave a direct instruction to stop the investigation, but Maqetuka could see from Cwele’s “utterances, and his challenges, that this investigation must stop”.
Maqetuka spoke of the frustrations of getting nowhere in the discussions with Cwele, and elevated this to Zuma.
Meeting with Zuma
Maqetuka’s recollection of the meeting with Zuma is briefly set out below:
- Njenje briefed Zuma on the Gupta investigation, and the concern that Zuma’s image would be tarnished by this relationship.
- Zuma asked for a copy of Njenje’s report on the Gupta investigation. This was refused as he was implicated in the report.
- It was obvious that Zuma had already been briefed by Cwele, and had bought his story (that this investigation was irregular, that Cwele said the investigation must stop). Zuma didn’t issue a direct instruction for [the Top Three] to stop the investigation.
- Zuma never asked [the Top Three] if it was going to continue with the investigation.
- They never met with Zuma again.
It became clear to the Top Three that they were not wanted in the SSA.
Beginning of the end
Maqetuka addressed a letter to Zuma, setting out his concerns regarding state security and its structures. He gave Zuma 14 days to respond to the matters raised.
At that time, there was a flurry of media reports, which indicated that there were leaks to the media.
Maqetuka had advised Cwele that he would turn 60 in January 2012 and would resign. The media reported that he was going to resign, and that he would “be allowed to take a long-term leave” up until his retirement date. Maqetuka wondered from whom the media received this information.
The SSA had been providing transport and protection services for Cwele’s wife, who was standing trial on drug trafficking and smuggling charges. Njenje put a stop to this, and Maqetuka supported him. Maqetuka reported this to Cwele, and thought this could be another reason for the breakdown in their relationship.
Not long after the meetings with Cwele and Zuma, Maqetuka, Shaik and Njenje left the SSA. The report on the investigation into the Guptas and their relationship with Zuma was never finalised.
It seems the biggest threat to the security of South Africa, that of the destructive invasive influence of the Guptas over the highest realms of government, effectively resulting in state capture, was ignored by those who had the power to stop it.