Events unfolding around the run-up to the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung are reminiscent of the run up to Polokwane including evidence of the misuse of the country’s intelligence services for political ends.
A range of security sources told reporters that symptomatic of the problem was the resignation under duress of the three most senior intelligence officials of the domestic and foreign intelligence structures. There have been allegations that this was as a result of their refusal to accede to instructions from the Minister of Intelligence to spy on the political rivals of the incumbent president, Jazob Zuma.
It is the current saga of suspended South African Police Services (SAPS) Divisional Head of Crime Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli that has provided additional insight into this disturbing characteristic of ANC politics in the run up to the party’s electoral meeting in December.
Two months after Zuma was sworn in as the President of South Africa, Mdluli was irregularly appointed to his position by a panel consisting solely of four cabinet members of the Zuma inner-circle and no police officials. Several police officials stated that this appointment was in contravention of the SAPS Act.
It was surmised that Zuma had instructed Mdluli be rewarded with this position because of his role in providing Zuma with the illegally gathered taped conversations which were used as the pretext by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for withdrawing corruption charges against him.
Following media allegations that Mdluli had instructed three close colleagues to murder the husband of his mistress while he was a station commander ten years earlier, the Hawks investigated and charged Mdluli with murder and later with corruption on an unrelated matter. During his bail hearing, Mdluli argued that he was a victim of a political conspiracy and to back up his defense revealed that he had handed a ‘Ground Intelligence Report’ to President Zuma that detailed the movements of various senior ANC politicians who had allegedly met to discuss unseating Zuma as president in the party’s electoral conference scheduled for December 2012.
Therefore on his own admission, Mdluli was misusing his official police position and abusing state resources to interfere in the internal political matters of the ANC. Later, following representations behind closed doors by Mdluli’s lawyers, NPA, withdrew the criminal charges against Mdluli. What made this especially controversial is that the NPA had commissioned an independent legal opinion from a senior Advocate that found sufficient evidence to prosecute Mdluli.
Last Sunday, a local publication lifted the lid on an internal SAPS investigation report, which found that Mdluli and other members of the SAPS Crime Intelligence Division had been involved in widespread corruption and misuse of police resources. Of major concern was that all investigations into Mdluli had reportedly been shelved by the Head of the Hawks, Lieutenant-General Anwar Dramat, allegedly as a result of pressure from the acting National Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.
That the misuse of state security and intelligence services under the Zuma administration for political purposes appears to be blatant and widespread is of deep concern as it threatens the future viability of South Africa’s democracy and its ability to address the many challenges facing the country.
As the abuse of these structures, including the NPA continues, the public will increasingly lose trust in them. Over time this leads to a significant weakening of social cohesion and willingness to support the government. This tends to result in the use of repressive measures by the government to impose its will on an increasing skeptical public.
There are already disturbing signs that this is happening such as the ANC forcing through the highly contested and deeply unpopular protection of state information legislation.
The largest development in the ANC’s internal battles for positions in the run-up to the Mangaung electoral conference is the report that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has made himself available to contest the party’s Presidency.
Considering that Motlanthe has a more sophisticated image than Zuma, is seen as more of a measured statesman and has kept a low profile with regards to his personal life counts in his favour amongst many of the rank and file of the ANC.
Born in Alexandra township in 1949, he matriculated at Orlando High School in Soweto after his family had been forcibly moved there by the apartheid government. While working for the Johannesburg City Council in the 1970’s he joined ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ the military wing of the ANC.
After being arrested and convicted on three charges under the ‘Terrorism Act’, he was sentenced to an effective 10 years on Robben Island, which he served between 1977 and 1987. He was elected Secretary General of the National Union of Mineworkers shortly after his release.
Motlanthe was elected Secretary General of the ANC in 1997, replacing Cyril Ramaphosa. Following the ANCs National Electoral Conference held in Polokwane in December 2007, he was elected as Deputy President of the ANC, beating Thabo Mbeki’s favourite choice for the position, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. He was appointed as a member of parliament in May 2008 and under pressure from the ANC, recruited into Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet as a Minister without portfolio. Following Mbeki’s recall as President of South Africa by the ANC a few months later, Mothlante was sworn in as a ‘caretaker president’ on 25 September 2008 until Zuma was sworn in as president on 9 May of the following year.
Recognising Mothlante’s broad appeal both within the ANC and South Africa, the ANC Youth League started lobbying for him to take over from Zuma after relations with the league’s President Julius Malema soured during 2010. This followed the ANCs first attempt to discipline the league’s populist president, in May of that year for unfavourably comparing Zuma with Mbeki in public. While Mothlante appeared at many Youth League meetings and generally expressed support for their activism, he managed to maintain broad appeal by also calling for discipline and for the league to respect the constitution and structures of the ANC. Malema and his allies are now most certain to find themselves in the political wilderness following the most recent disciplinary process which ended in Malema being expelled from the ANC, a sanction still to be confirmed on appeal.
Given increasing disenchantment with Zuma’s presidency by various groups, including those within COSATU, Mothlante may well find that he has a lot of support to challenge Zuma for the position once the ANC formally opens nominations for the electoral conference in October 2012.
Until then, Mothlante is unlikely to say much about his intentions as the ANC has agreed that the positions will not be discussed until the nomination process is formally opened. However, he will certainly capture the imagination of many and will be continually touted both within and outside of the ruling alliance.
Given recent events in the state’s intelligence structures and the willingness amongst many close to Zuma to use extra-legal activity to address political challenges, Mothlante may be in for a rough ride if he is seen as a threat to the ANC President. Last week’s media story implicating Mothlante’s partner in high-level bribery intended to break UN sanctions on Iran may be the first taste of things to come.