*Staff Reporter –
Edward Snowden a fugitive USA intelligence contractor is currently exiled in Russia following his exposé on operations of his native country’s security, intelligence and counter intelligence operations. Snowden is perhaps on the most wanted list by the USA government for exposing tactics employed by Obama and previous administrations in gathering intelligence from both friendly countries and those considered foes.
However, what is of importance in this article is an attempt to demonstrate how meticulous and serious other governments are when it comes to security issues. The USA is employed here not because it offers a perfect model but because it demonstrates high level of seriousness when approaching issues of national security.
To the contrary, South Africa has proven to be lax and ill prepared when dealing with national security issues among them the 2008 xenophobia attacks, the 2011 Marikana massacre, attempted murder of exiled Rwandan defence minister, the free movement in SA of the Al-shabab linked white widow, the embarrassing defeat of SANDF at the Bangui battle, easy accumulation of SA passports by terror linked extremists, the murder of fugitive former Rwandan spy chief Patrick Karegeya and the Mandela memorial fake interpreter only to mention but a few.The above cited examples demonstrate the government’s failure to conduct basic background checks on individuals entering and exiting the country. Surely South Africa could do better factoring that it is the largest economic power in the continent and the only country in the elite BRICS community.
South Africa’s GDP according to Wikipedia is at $US 623, 201 billion, with a population size of 52,981,991 million. South Africa is the 28th largest economy in the world and regarded as the most developed in Africa. The above statistics demonstrate how crucial and strategic South Africa is hence, requiring pedantic security apparatus and polished political leadership.
The independent online reported of an incident in 1999 when the SA intelligence was caught in an embarrassing act while one of their surveillance cameras was discovered outside the Germany embassy. The government dismissed the ‘spy’camera unearthed as part of fighting crime in the given area although the embassy officials were not informed. The unearthed German embassy’s humiliating camera story helps in demonstrating the recklessness from the intelligence arm posing serious security risks to the stability of the country and its citizens even more to Foreign Direct Investments.
Between 2000- March 2008, at least 67 people died in what could be classified as xenophobia attacks. With this background in memory the intelligence failed to foil further related attacks that resulted in 62 deaths in May 2008. Any serious intelligence force could have established operational networks in troubled communities and managed to save lives.
The Marikana massacre is yet another incident that demonstrates the failure by the security and intelligence apparatus. The brewing rivalry fights between AMCU and NUM could have been detected much earlier by intelligence operatives especially considering that NUM had relationships with the ruling party. The intelligence forces could have capitalised on the existing relations between ANC and NUM to gather information. Due to either ignorance or sheer recklessness by intelligence operatives 44 people lost their lives while 77 were seriously wounded.
The other perhaps more sophisticated and challenging grouping to deal with is that of terrorists. The leading terrorist group (al-Qaeda network) has in the past decade managed to capitalise on internal crisis in fighting own causes. This can be proven in the role of al-Qaeda in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan among others. Terrorist groups find it difficult to live in relatively peaceful economies for fear of being discovered.
Samantha Lewthwaite a serial terrorist who slipped from police in Mombasa in 2011 was in possession of a South African passport at the time of the Kenyan Westgate mall bombing master minded by the Al-shabab. Al-shabab is a terrorist group with links to the notorious al-Qaeda network. Lewthwaite has frequented South Africa and has been in Johannesburg a number of times according to some media reports and should this be true surely intelligence would be obliged to give an explanation on why she has been on the loose in this country when she is on Interpol wanted list.
In 2012 she entered Kenya with a South African passport under a pseudonym Natalie Faye Webb. The list of people exploiting both the border control loopholes and the perennial inefficient Department of Home Affairs is endless. Ihsa Garaoui, a member of the Tunisian al-Qaeda branch confirmed that he had several South African passports. The critical question would be how and why terrorists acquire the South African green book. Surely among others the reasons would be easy travelling benefits that come with the South African passport as in most African and European countries conditions for awarding visas to South African passport holders are much relaxed in comparison to most African countries. Among others is Ibrahim Tantoush, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Mohammed Gulzar connected to the 2006 plot to blow international flights, Fazul Abdullah Mohamed linked to the Tanzanian and Kenyan bombings of 1998 who were in possession of South African passports.
However, this has not been the case with South Africa as mercenaries; would-be terrorist and or terrorist-linked individuals have found the country a safe haven. In 2004, 64 suspected mercenaries were arrested in Zimbabwe headed for Equatorial Guinean to allegedly overthrow the government. Twenty of these mercenaries were South Africans with one Zimbabwean in possession of a South African passport. It is puzzling to note that these mercenaries were mobilised and funded in South Africa. A number of security breaches could be established among them are issues on how the plane was cleared by the aviation without intelligence checks perhaps the same loopholes that saw the Guptas landing at Waterkloof airport in Pretoria in 2013.
Closely related to the Simon Mann and team’s foiled coup plot would be the embarrassing military operations in the Central Africa Republic. Conflicting reports suggests that soldiers ranging from 13-50 were killed in Central African Republic in the battle now famously known as the battle of Bangui. Basic military intelligence would point to lax approach by the South African military intelligence in understanding the rebels’ tactics and strategies. A close look would show that the South African military intelligence failed to acquire enough intelligence on the resourcing of the rebels ultimately resulting in an embarrassment of the decade.
Just over a month ago the South African intelligence and security establishment failed to provide the necessary background check on the interpreter who did the translation for various Heads of State at late South African President Nelson Mandela’s memorial service held at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Thamsanqa Jantjie who professed being schizophrenia misled not only the international audience but the local VIP protocol and security apparatus that allowed him to among others stand arms akimbo with President Barack Obama and close to an hour with ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. An august meeting of such magnitude required pedantic scrutiny surely it defies logic that nothing close to security check was done at the very minimum the South African government could have hired an SABC sign language interpreter and still make a killing from the proceeds.
The late fugitive former Rwandan spy chief Patrick Karegeya was murdered early January at the Michelengelo Towers hotel in Sandton. A week later private investor Chad Thomas told some media organisation that a Rwandan Lieutenant-Colonel was arrested in Mozambique over Karegeya’s murder which turned out to be nothing but false reports. As a former spy chief the host government would have considered that any attempts on his life would bring embarrassment to the South African intelligence community. Assuming that he turned down VIP protection, the South African security apparatus could have planted shadow protection officers he would never have figured out. His eventual death has proven yet another security nightmare as it is now more explicit that not even senior exiled political and securocrats are safe in this country. This leaves a lot to be desired especially for the South African intelligence setup. Surely the intelligence community after failed attempted murder on former Rwandese army general Kayumba Nyamwasa’s life in June 2010 it would be logical to micro manage these senior political actors’ movements.