It is worrying to see the non-response by law enforcement to the threat of both the physical and economic security of millions remedied by another non-response
The calamity that is the state’s security apparatus in light of the recent anarchy mostly in South Africa’s two most populous provinces has led to a number of developments.
It took the deaths of over 300 people and billions lost in damages in a matter of days for President Cyril Ramaphosa to act on the shortcomings of the police and intelligence services.
Not only have ministers been removed from their positions, an entire ministry has been dissolved and parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) this week announced it plans to hold an inquiry “into allegations of intelligence failures”. But to suggest these developments constitute ‘decisive action’ is supported by little evidence.
Among the changes Ramaphosa made to his cabinet was to remove his defence minister. But she could hardly be blamed for the failure to prepare for the unrest when firstly, the military is not the first response for domestic issues, supported by the fact that it can only deploy on the president’s instruction. Secondly, soldiers behaved much better compared to when they were deployed to help enforce the lockdown. But it turns out, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was not fired, instead she might be promoted to one of the most senior positions in government. Suppose that’s par for the course.
The other was to move the minister of state security Ayanda Dlodlo back to her old post ─ not an actual reprimand for “intelligence failures”. But as parliament has already heard the police was furnished with intelligence before the first truck was set alight suggests the spies are not to blame entirely either.
So while the balance of the fingers might point to the police, this minister has remained in his post. None of the executive changes therefore point to any form of accountability and as a result, will do very little to solve the dysfunctionality.
The mere appointment of a more competent minister ─ perceived or actual ─ also does not automatically translate to effective performance ─ after all SAA is still grounded and evidence of corruption against a card-carrying member of the ANC is still more constant than the supply of power.
The JSCI’s planned inquiry is also unlikely to lead to anything substantive. The problems in the intelligence services ─ to which the committee’s inquiry will be limited ─ were investigated more than two years ago, when the High-level review panel into the State Security Agency (SSA) found “things had gone badly wrong”. And while the current JSCI is yet to publish an annual report ─ in accordance with its legal mandate ─ since the forming of the current parliament in 2018, it only promised to include some of its findings in its annual report “to be published soon”. In short, those who lost their work or businesses will only be privy to the reasons the ANC is comfortable sharing. The rest ─ and likely most important ─ will remain sealed.
It is worrying to see the non-response by law enforcement to the threat of both the physical and economic security of millions remedied by another non-response. What is that observation about implementation?
Perhaps the only indications of actual reform are the president’s decisions to have intelligence directly report to the Union Buildings and appointing the chairperson of the High-level panel as his security advisor.
The former is by no means a solution in itself and its long term implications need careful consideration ─ imagine Zuma was still in the Union Buildings. The latter is only hopeful to the extent that the individual with perhaps the best understanding of the problems in the intelligence services is now directly involved in addressing them. But given the ANC’s inability to do what it says, this is only a positive development in the academic sense at this stage.
When thousands of people stormed stores and warehouses in July ─ their reasons as varied as the items they took ─ the inaction by law enforcement caused as much anxiety as the images of factories and trucks being torched in broad daylight.
This very fact does not only expose the incompetence of a few ministers, although competence in the executive is crucially needed. It speaks to the task of rebuilding after the years of destruction of law enforcement agencies; reversing corruption ─ from the bribed traffic cop to the compromised colonel; replacing incompetent officials appointed for their loyalty to the party or a member thereof as opposed to the country. It also reveals the electorate’s failure to hold those elected to account at the ballot box.
Written By Pieter van der Merwe on Aug. 12, 2021, 10:52 a.m.
(Last modified on Aug. 12, 2021, 10:52 a.m.)