The secret police can feed information to the national political leadership which can determine the future health of the state. But because they are secret, how does anyone know that this information is both true and valid?
In the days of apartheid, the secret police were the centreboard of the police. The chief of the security police was heir-apparent to the National Commissionership. The Veiligheidspolisie were in charge of gathering all information on threats to the state, on arresting and interrogating all suspects, and on murdering those who could not be safely arrested. They ran death-squads and even had a military wing, called Koevoet.
The security police were corrupt, but they also knew that the people they arrested, tortured and murdered were usually people who posed some kind of threat to the apartheid state. Granted, as time went on they became increasingly unaccountable — unaccountability is the disease of secret polices, which rots them away from within. What seems to kept the apartheid secret police from becoming utterly corrupt was relatively good leadership (which in moral and political terms means odious leadership) and a sense of internal discipline driven by the clear and present danger of the anti-apartheid struggle; without apartheid, the security police had no reason to exist.
And so they faded away. This happened partly for internal reasons — Military Intelligence wanted to take over their job, and the Directorate of Covert Collection was essentially an MI attempt to provide the information-gathering and target-identification capacities of the security police, while the Civil Cooperation Bureau was intended to supplant the security police murder squads at Vlakplaas and elsewhere. As for detention, the State of Emergency was on and every member of Military Intelligence had the right to detain any civilian in the country indefinitely.
But meanwhile, the Criminal Investigation Department of the South African Police were annoyed at the Security Branch; the SB poached all of the CID’s best people. So they lobbied to get them back, and eventually, to resolve these bureaucratic problems and to eliminate a possible threat to his dominion (and to please his friend, Niel Barnard, head of the National Intelligence Service), President de Klerk collapsed the SB into the CID as the Crime Intelligence Service. And there the matter has rested for over twenty years; the police have had no proper secret police, nor a proper criminal investigation department, but a botch of both which is actually neither. It has just enough secrecy to be immune from scrutiny, but not enough to make it an effectual spy service.
But we have a secret police, do we not? We have the National Intelligence Agency, heir to the National Intelligence Service (which was split into two when the ANC took over, the NIS’s foreign operations being hived off as the South African Secret Service — although under Zuma the two were put back together again). All this to-ing and fro-ing obviously didn’t make for efficiency or high morale, but that wasn’t considered important in 1994 when the former agencies of apartheid were viewed as potential time-bombs to be defused or drained of their explosive content. Hence, the extraordinarily incompetent Mo/e Shaik was put in charge of setting up the new spy service, which ensured that South Africa had no effectual spy service or secret police.
Of course, many liberals who love to pretend that the world is a safe and secure place adore the idea of having no secret police. They fear it might be used against them (as if a machine-gun were bought for use against cockroaches) although interestingly, liberals love using the secret police, and death squads and the whole paraphernalia of repression, when they get their claws into it. On the other hand, many South Africans who staunchly oppose South Africa having the capacity to identify spies and traitors are people who are themselves sponsored by foreigners to make propaganda or gather information or manipulate the political scene in the interests of those foreigners — and thus do not want any force capable of monitoring their behaviour to exist.
So nobody in positions of power minded all this. Mbeki seems to have handled intelligence matters by ignoring them and assuming that he knew better himself (which he usually did). However, Mbeki allowed Zuma to take complete control of what spy services existed, and seems to have been genuinely shocked by the way in which the spy services were perverted in Zuma’s interest. In other words, benign neglect was not an option favourable to the neglector.
Then Zuma took over, and put Mo/e back in charge of the newly-collapsed-together national spy service (but he had to go later). A new Ministry for State Security — like the Soviet MGB which Stalin established and Krushchev had to disband, first murdering its disgusting boss Lavrenti Beria — was set up under the unstable control of the husband of a notorious cocaine peddler. To please the new Commissioner of Police, most of the investigative units in the SAPS were slung together under a new portmanteau priority crimes unit called the Hawks, which further meant that there was nothing much for the Crime Intelligence Service to do.
Which brings us to Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli, chief of the Crime Intelligence Service, hence boss of an agency whose existence appeared to possess not even notional validity any more and whose morale must have been plummeting by the day under Zuma as power and influence shifted to the spooks and the plods. Mdluli has recently been accused of serious crimes — of taking money from the Crime Intelligence discretionary fund and using it to decorate the houses of his friends or put his friends, lovers and relatives on the payroll as purported informants. This is precisely the kind of behaviour one would expect from an unaccountable agency with no reason to exist.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Mdluli has been accused of serious crimes. In 1999, when he was Station Commander at Vosloorus, Mdluli was accused of murder. What had happened was that the lover of Mdluli’s then-girlfriend was asked out into the field by a police officer to point out a crime scene. While he was there, so the police officer said, two armed men came up, made the police officer lie down, and then shot the lover several times, killing him instantly. This is a known manner of informal execution in the secret police; the Creator had a colleague who was killed in much the same way, and the TRC revealed several similar episodes when activists went to their places of execution under the impression that they were being asked to identify sites of events. In that case, if it was a secret police-style killing, and if Mdluli was in the secret police at the time, and if the person murdered was someone against whom Mdluli had a grudge, it was natural for Mdluli to be a suspect.
But the docket got lost, and the witnesses failed to testify, and the matter never went to court, and Mdluli was appointed to command the Gauteng police force from his relatively junior position.
Why? Well, consider where Vosloorus is. It’s part of the “Katorus triangle” where Inkatha was invading the Johannesburg and Vaal area in an attempt to strike at the ANC’s heartland and disrupt their operations, while slaughtering enough people to establish themselves as a blocking force against free elections. Inkatha was moving their Army-trained and SB-trained thugs up the N3 to occupy hostels and the surrounding houses in the area. And Mdluli was the most senior Zulu police officer in the area at the time. Makes you think; was he involved in any way? And if so, how? Was he a liaison between Inkatha and the police, or was he covertly feeding information back to the ANC? Or both?
Certainly his meteoric rise to prominence suggests that he was more than just an ordinary plod on the beat. It is, of course, possible that he met Zuma during the period when Zuma and Mbeki were taking turns being good cop and bad cop, trying to smooth out the violence before and after the elections. Maybe Zuma, with his spook connections, decided to do Mdluli a good turn as Deputy President and calls were made to calm things down. But still, there’s the uneasy suspicion that Mdluli might have been in the apartheid Security Branch; he certainly wouldn’t have been put in charge of Crime Intelligence if he had no connections there, which means CID at least and SB most probably. Which could mean, of course, that he’s the right man for the job, skilled, experienced, appointed on merit — he’s practically the Democratic Alliance’s police poster boy .
However, what was a Zulu doing in the SB in the early 1990s? Was he there just because he didn’t care about apartheid and wanted to catch the bad guys? Or did he have some kind of ideological affinity for the reactionaries of the apartheid police, authoritarian or fascistic or whatever? Or did he just realise that this was where the power and money lay, and he wanted a piece of that? The first point might make him bearable. The other points make him intolerable.
The fact that his appointment into Crime Intelligence was not accompanied by any substantial improvement in Crime Intelligence suggests that Mdluli is not necessarily the right man for the job. However, we still have to ask a few intriguing questions. Why was Mdluli’s murder case suddenly revisited? Why, for that matter, was Mdluli’s abuse — alleged abuse, let it be admitted, we actually have no hard evidence but only the allegations of journalists based on the allegations of unnamed spooks — suddenly brought to the head of the table?
One reason seems to be that people in the ANC were afraid of Mdluli. He does seem to be Zuma’s man, and Crime Intelligence is more hands-on than National Intelligence Agency. Also, under Mthethwa there’s been a general brutalisation of the police, almost as if they were preparing for a violent crackdown. Crime Intelligence could provide the targeting information for the new paramilitary police units which Mthethwa has set up — and, with a bit of tweaking, bingo, we’d be back in the late 1980s. Was thus what Mdluli was put in place to do, and does this explain why so many ANC leaders are complaining that Mdluli was spying on them? (Admittedly, under Zuma people have to accept that all their phones are tapped and their correspondence and e-mail monitored, for that’s the way he does things). In other words, the Mdluli affair was simply people grabbing for opportunities to protect themselves. Meanwhile, the media naturally does their best to undermine the secret police for fear it might find out what they are doing, and the DA and their “civil society” friends campaign against Mdluli because he’s black. (Hence we see a great deal of racist propaganda against Mdluli, appealing to this odious constituency.) So there are good reasons and bad for the Mdluli affair to continue to fester. Also, if Zuma is really plotting against us, then he will protect Mdluli, or else find a replacement for Mdluli. (But presumably, still someone with big skeletons in the closet — how else to control such a person except through the threat of exposure?)
Scary stuff, this, and an indication of how far the situation has spun out of control. What’s more, by not making any effort to bring it back into control, and by not discussing the political issues, it seems that our ThoughtLeaders are not interested in bringing the situation back under control. What they want, is to take advantage from the chaos arising from the situation. Rather the way they decided to take advantage from the chaos arising from Zuma’s dismissal.
And we remember how well that turned out for the rest of us.