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In South Africa, politicians and spies go hand in glove

Nicholas Norbrook
By Nicholas Norbrook
Managing Editor of The Africa Report

Posted on Friday, 12 April 2019 10:24

Bheki Cele (R), congratulated by Jacob Zuma (L) on his appointment to police chief in 2009. He later used his spy craft to help bring down Zuma. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A police investigator and the minister of police are at war. Before, they were a crucial part of the resistance against Zuma's state pillage.

It is one of the particularities of South Africa: a strong judicial system, an intrepid media, and grand corruption. All living side by side.

This makes for one of the better lines of the week, by investigative reporter Sam Sole of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism:

  • “The war for the soul of the ANC is a war for the country. Gangsters, cops, gangster-cops and gangster-politicians have a big stake in the outcome,” he writes.

It comes in the third of his magisterial three-part series into the tug-of-war between police, underworld and politics that makes governing South Africa such a poisonous chalice.

His thesis is that Zuma is still fighting hard to neutralise threats against himself and the interests he protects. And that ground zero of that battle remains the security services.

  • Two characters spring out: the now police minister, Bheki Cele, who was national police commissioner back in 2011. The other, Robert McBride, was director of the Independent Police Complaints Directorate.
  • “Both were sharp thorns disrupting Zuma’s state capture footwork, slowing him down, hobbling his foot-soldiers.”

But McBride – who took the stand Thursday and Friday in the Zondo inquiry into state corruption hearings – and Cele are now at each others throats, as the Spy vs Spy saga comes to a climax.

At its heart: the role of the “crime intelligence secret fund”, a secret slush fund used to get things done; be it to bribe delegates voting for party leaders, or simply to facilitate more terrestrial pleasures.

It is easy to sit back and watch the drama, and condemn the actors. But turning the security services into a tool of politicians has a longer history.

  • Former President Thabo Mbeki in his struggle against his then deputy, Jacob Zuma, was an early case. Both learned at the feet of Moscow operatives for whom security and politics are one glove one hand.
  • But the Apartheid Bureau of State Security deserves its place in the spotlight, too.

After Hitler was defeated at the end of the Second World War, top German security service officials were quietly co-opted by the West into the fight against Soviet Russia.

How many apartheid policemen ended up in the law enforcement of the Rainbow Nation?

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