Adriaan Basson: Mr President, intelligence cannot afford another rogue minister

Fears about State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo weren't unfounded. Six months into the job, she has been accused of issuing illegal interception orders and pushing her own allies to be appointed, writes Adriaan Basson.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's efforts to rid our intelligence agencies of rogues, crooks and political interference are threatened by the fallout around State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.

When she was appointed, I cautioned that Ramaphosa required a squeaky-clean and trusted ally to head the troubled intelligence portfolio and that Dlodlo was not this person.

Prior to the announcement of his Cabinet after the May elections, two of the names floating around for this portfolio were those of Senzo Mchunu and Pravin Gordhan.

This made sense. Both are senior and trust allies of Ramaphosa with enough backbone to clean up the mess left by the David Mahlobos and Bongani Bongos of the world. Neither Mchunu, nor Gordhan are implicated in corruption or maladministration (just because the EFF accuses you of something – without evidence – doesn't mean you are implicated) and would have been fit for the job.

READ | EXCLUSIVE: Intelligence Minister Ayanda Dlodlo told spy boss to 'unlawfully' hack calls

I was puzzled by Dlodlo's appointment. A close confidante of former president Jacob Zuma, with solid Umkhonto we Sizwe credentials, Dlodlo was not an obvious choice for the intelligence ministry and I couldn't understand why Ramaphosa didn't stick to a "safe" appointment.

Ramaphosa already had to get rid of his first intelligence minister, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba (who was appointed in February 2018), when he announced the post-election executive. Letsatsi-Duba was another strange appointment, who came to the Ramaphosa party late after backing Zuma during his first two terms.

My fears about Dlodlo weren't unfounded. Less than six months into her appointment, she has been accused of issuing illegal interception orders, micromanaging the State Security Agency (SSA) and pushing her own allies to be appointed.

She is up against two spy chiefs who were appointed by Ramaphosa. Loyiso Jafta, the acting director-general of the SSA, is an ex-Mbeki man who knows the SSA inside-out. Advocate Mahlodi Muofhe, head of the SSA's domestic branch, is a good governance expert who cut his teeth in various government departments, including the Special Investigating Unit.

Both were brought in by the president to start the process of cleaning up and rebuilding the SSA that was effectively hijacked by Zuma's allies and turned into his private army of spies. Last week, News24 revealed how the SSA's Special Operations Unit, under Thulani Dlomo, reported directly to Zuma and worked outside of the agency's structures.

This was all laid bare in March when former police minister Sydney Mufamadi and his high-level panel released their shocking report into the state of the SSA. The report detailed how the SSA was abused by providing body guarding services to politicians, spy on student leaders and thwart Ramaphosa's campaign for the ANC presidency.

The report was referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), but no prosecutions have been forthcoming.

The appointment of Jafta (as acting head, because the SSA will be split into two next year) and Muofhe signalled the beginning of Ramaphosa's clean-up of the agency. The president must act swiftly to ensure this process isn't undermined by Dlodlo's actions.

They need a minister who supports, not undermines, them.

Ramaphosa's office has been quiet since News24 revealed how Dlodlo instructed Muofhe to illegally intercept the cellphone communication of a person allegedly involved in the xenophobic violence of September.

Dlodlo was unhappy with the quality of the work coming out of the SSA on the matter and decided to personally get involved. Irrespective of her best intentions, it can never be right for a minister (or anyone for that matter) to illegally intercept the communications of another person.

That goes directly against the values of the Constitution and against the rule of law.

The existence of a judge to authorise interceptions isn't a nuisance or "red tape". Tapping someone's phone is an incredibly invasive measure and should only be done when the state is absolutely sure they have the right target.

Dlodlo and her boss, Ramaphosa, owe the country an explanation.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.