The revelations in the report by the High-Level Review Panel into the State Security Agency (SSA) rocked South Africa this week. The SSA is riven by divisions, it is largely free from oversight and engaged in a range of illegal activities, including establishing a parallel spy network.
And it would be easy to slam former president Jacob Zuma for "factionalising and politicising" the spy agency, the two main factors responsible for the shambles the SSA finds itself in. Zuma should be panned, yes, but his party, the ANC, should shoulder most of the blame.
In the fractious build-up to the ANC's Polokwane conference in 2007 state institutions and machinery were used to fight factional battles, and most – if not all – of them have never recovered. The ANC could not distinguish between party and state. And here we are: with a broken intelligence service, police and prosecutions service.
In this week's Friday Briefing Sarah Evans traces the genesis of the SSA's woes to 2005, Right 2 Know's Murray Hunter writes about how civil society was caught in the crossfire and we analyse the impact of a weakened SSA.
A sense of inward-looking suspicion was birthed in the real struggle against apartheid. But it became a paranoia and clung to the ANC's DNA like a genetic disease. And if the intelligence services had been deeply political before the ANC's national conference at Polokwane, they were almost irreparably political with Jacob Zuma at the helm. For the last decade and more, our spooks have been preoccupied with "political intelligence gathering" – looking under every rock for signs of "social unrest" and spying on political foes, like protagonists in a Cold War spy-versus-spy novel.
We now have in writing an acknowledgement by the state that it has actively treated its own people as a threat – especially those that were outspoken against then president Jacob Zuma. The SSA Panel's report found evidence that the SSA had "boasted" of its spying operations on a range of civic formations, and the people of South Africa.
What South Africa desperately needs are swift, professional and dispassionate prosecutions. If a report of similar reach and depth was to be tabled in the United States, a special prosecutor or House Committee would already have been appointed to deal with the matter in the public domain.