Zimbabwe: Democracy under threat

Alex | Oct 02, 2009
A series of constitutional amendments indicate that minimum standards for a free and fair election are unlikely to be met.
Summary:

With the news that King Mswati has agreed to reinstate the constitution after 23 years of absolute monarchy, Swaziland has taken a large step back towards multi-party democracy. At the same time, however, democracy in Zimbabwe is coming under ever greater pressure.

The closure of the Sunday Gazette, Harare's only independent Sunday newspaper, means that Zimbabweans have little hope of fair and open coverage of their forthcoming presidential election. Almost all the press and ail the broadcast media are now under the rigid control of the Ministry of Information and ZANU. Trevor Ncube, the editor of the last real independent voice, the Financial Gazelle, has been suspended for carrying a report to which President Robert Mugabe took exception.

Meanwhile, the government has brought forward a new set of constitutional amendments - the 14th such set of amendments in IS years. This in itself is not desirable: constitutions should be regarded with respect and amended cautiously, infrequently, and only when there is clear public demand for change. None of these conditions apply in this case. Moreover, as with most of the other amendments moved by the government over time, the net effect is to diminish individual rights by repeatedly overruling decisions of the Supreme Court, whose authority is thus diminished.

One amendment restricts citizenship by birth to children both or cither of whose parents are Zimbabwe citizens. Yet if the parents were foreign residents they might be unable to give the child their own citizenship, with the effect that the child would become stateless. This is in direct contravention of Zimbabwe's obligations under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

Another amendment removes any constitutional protection for the privacy of one's home and other property.

A further amendment removes from Zimbabwean women the right to have her husband reside in Zimbabwe if he is a foreigner, although Zimbabwean men will continue to have the right to have a foreign wife reside in Zimbabwe with them. In effect this gives the state a veto on whom one of its female citizens may marry or, alternatively, will force her to leave the country if she wishes to live with a foreign husband.

This proposal is grossly discriminatory against women and overturns a Supreme Court ruling in favour of sexual equality in this matter. The amendment is in flat contravention of such conventions to which Zimbabwe is signatory as the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

It comes as no surprise to hear that, in contravention of the norms of academic tenure and free speech, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe has been dismissed for public criticism of questionable behaviour by the university administration; that President Mugabe is again threatening expropriation of property without compensation; and that there are already ominous indications that minimum standards for a fair and free presidential election are unlikely to be met.

The SASS gathers intelligence abroad but the other three agencies are all involved in domestic intelligence collection. This latter fact is often forgotten. The SANDF has not been involved abroad for many years now but has frequently been deployed at home, and so a large part of the Ml budget is spent on domestic intelligence. In 1994 Ml spent R163 million, the lion's share doubtless at home, including R37 million which was spent on covert intelligence - spending which is unlikely to have decreased since. Moreover, in addition to Ml there are quite separate agencies for Navy Intelligence, Army Intelligence, SAAF Intelligence and, most remarkably of all, a Medical Services Intelligence. Each of these has its own budget too.

Ministerial responsibility for these agencies is scattered: the CIS comes under Safety and Security Minister, Sidney Mufamadi, the SASS and N1A under justice Minister, Dullah Omar and Ml [and the other armed service agencies] under Defence Minister, Joe Modise.

Accordingly, it was decided that all four services would report to a National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC, under Mo Shaik) which in turn reports to the Cabinet's Coordinating Committee on Security.

Chairmanship of the latter committee was given to Deputy President FW de Klerk to balance the fact that the ANC had taken all the police and defence posts, but almost immediately a power struggle developed to marginalise de Klerk.

The 1994 Intelligence White Paper downgraded his post to a purely administrative and advisory one and ANC sources insisted that de Klerk [who was alleged to be blocking the appointment of Joe Nhlanhla as Intelligence Minister] would not only not make policy but would not even be allowed to peruse secret intelligence reports - which would be routed directly to Mandela's office instead.

At the same time Mbeki was reported to have made a strong bid to take over intelligence responsibilities from de Klerk. The result of this bureaucratic infighting was a sweeping redistribution des cartes. De Klerk retained his committee chairmanship but effectively conceded victory to Mbeki and washed his hands of intelligence matters. Nhlanhla was

appointed Deputy Minister for Intelligence in the President's office - a fact which also largely removed the supervising Minister, Omar, from the picture.

The only integrating thread in this rather muddled picture was the extremely dense network of SACP cadres it involved. Dr Sizakele Sigxashe, the NIA Director-General, learnt the craft of intelligence in East Germany and the USSR. He has resigned from the SACP executive but remains a Party member. One of his more controversial appointments to high office in the IA has been Gabriel Mthembu Mhonto, another SACP cadre trained in East Germany and at the Party school in Moscow before heading the notorious Quatro punishment camp in Angola from 1979 to ! 982.

Joe Nhlanhla and Sidney Mufamadi are both SACP members, while when matters involving Military Intelligence are discussed it is Ronnie Kasrils [SACP Executive member and former head of MK intelligence] who sits in. It is generally assumed that both Mo Shaik and Azhar Cachalia (now appointed as a sort of police commissar, co-equal to Fivaz] are also Party men. Mbeki, on the other hand, has now been on sabbatical from the Party so long that it must be assumed to be a permanent holiday.

A swelling intelligence community

This new ruling group presides over an intelligence establishment which not only includes the old swollen apparatus of the NIS and the Security Branch but which had to find room for over 900 African National Congress [ANC] intelligence agents, the Pan Africanist Congress's [PAC] Security Service and the intelligence services of Venda, Transkei and Bophuthatswana. This motley bunch are now supposed to behave in an exemplary Democratic manner.

As Sandy Africa, the chief of the N1A Training Academy, puts it: "Our emphasis is on the Constitution. We now have a strong human rights culture that cannot be ignored. We have to forgo certain opportunities for gathering intelligence because they are no longer legally permissible. And we believe that is correct. The ends do not justify the means."

Such sentiments do Ms Africa great credit but they are an extremely tall order. Virtually all the services above were guilty of murder, torture, hit squad activity and, depending on one's definition, terrorism; and all of them were habituated to acting outside the law. It will certainly be a new experience for virtually all former agents to be told that they have now to go by the constitutional book. The old lags of the intelligence world who leak to the press [as "informed sources") about such matters generally impart the view that while it may indeed be possible to teach old dogs new tricks, no one should hold their breath.

Those who remember the dread days of Vorster's police state, characterised by the pervasive power of Hendrik Van den Bergh's Bureau of State Security [BOSS], recall that a key disproportion lay at the heart of the matter. Sharpeville and Rivonia saw the panic expansion of the security police apparatus at just the point when effective opposition had been crushed.

The result was that there was actually rather little for the huge number of new securocrats to do - but that the devil found work for idle hands. Non-violent activists like Albert Luthuli, Ismael Meer and Peter Brown were put under continuous surveillance, banned, jailed or, in cases such as that of Steve Biko or Rick Turner, murdered.

Against that background it is difficult not to feel concern when one learns that in the new South Africa, whose national security is at last unthreatened by foreign enemies, guerrilla warfare or internal insurrection, the new N1A now has almost three times as many staff as the old security apparatus had even at the height of the "total onslaught".

Just how odd the situation is became apparent during last year's wrangle over the intelligence services budget. Despite an initial government attempt to cut the budget by 20% in line with Reconstruction and Development Programme [RDP] needs, the ultimate outcome was a 66% increase from R427,5 million to R710 million - by far the biggest increase for any government department, and this at a time when health and teaching jobs were being cut in the cause of economy.

Official paranoia

Some of the justifications advanced for this state of affairs are pretty far-fetched. Thus the ANC discussion document, One Year of GNU speaks of the National Party conducting a "surreptitious destabilisation strategy" in which it "uses networks built within and outside the country". The document warns of "counter-revolution a 17 mobilisation", and that "we should guard against the Allende syndrome" in which problems within the country "are being orchestrated with the involvement of international anti-democracy forces".

Sometimes there is a tendency to see setbacks for the Government as the result of deliberate sabotage: in October 1994 one high ranking ANC official told New Nation: "There is clearly a secret government operating alongside us. All our programmes have been frustrated by sinister forces bent on destroying everything the ANC is trying to come up with."

Similarly, Joe Nhlanhla talks of "covert, dirty tricks and misinformation structures directed against South Africa's new democratic order" but thus far, at least, it is hard to know exactly what he is referring to.

It is equally difficult to know how seriously to take the frequent suggestion that the multiplication of foreign embassies in Pretoria is a threat to national security. Thus the NIA boss, Sigxashe, warns that not all the new embassies are those of friendly

countries and that there accordingly has to be covert monitoring of foreigners' activities. "There are those," he warns, "who want to pull us down".

Sandy Africa, in the same vein, talks of one of the NIA's major aims being "to neutralise attempts by foreign intelligence to undermine our country". One wonders which these new, unfriendly countries are: by definition, after all, those countries which have opened embassies here since 1994 are precisely those who stayed away before out of anti-apartheid principle.

The alarming thing about claims such as these is less that they are likely to be true than that they could serve to legitimate all manner of activities. If, for example, one truly believes that a secret government is working alongside and trying to sabotage the real one, it would be logical enough to start bugging Hanekom or Mbeki to check which side they were on. Similarly, if Nhlanhla's warning about "misinformation structures" is taken seriously, this could provide a rationale for bugging Matsepe-Casaburri. If one believes that some sort of "Allende" option is being attempted, it would presumably make sense to deploy similar tactics against those receiving foreign funding - except, of course, that this would make the RDP office the prime suspect.

The oddity about these claims is the exact way in which they echo the old embattled psychology of the "total onslaught". When NIA spokesman Willem Theron claimed that it was the NIA's job to provide the Government with "intelligence on any aspect threatening the Government's programmes", one needed only a wagging finger to conjure back the image of "die groot krokodil" from George.

In effect public opinion ignored such statements as more or less what you had to expect from a rather overblown collection of spooks who needed to justify their existence. It was generally recognised that the most ruthless and psychopathic elements both of the old apartheid regime and their opponents had been found in their security and intelligence apparatus: if it was necessary to throw a lot of money at this key political problem of making the lamb lie down with the lion, it was probably worth it.

When, in November 1994, PAC MP Patricia de Lille took up the question of state surveillance of journalists - a case prompted by the alleged spying against left wing journalist, Derek Fleming - she was successfully pressured by Mbeki to withdraw her parliamentary question on the matter.

Questionable behaviour

The revelation that the NIA was devoting much of its resources to investigating gang warfare in the Western Cape and the causes of violence in KwaZulu-Natal led to raised eyebrows in some quarters that the Agency should be so openly targeting the two Opposition-ruled provinces, but President Mandela's frustration at the poor quality of intelligence on KwaZulu-Natal received wider -and more sympathetic - attention.

The most remarkable revelation of NIA activity - at the University of Durban-Westville in August 1995 - attracted little comment. In effect the UDW campus has been the scene of an attempted takeover by the Trotskyite/Indian nationalist Combined Staff Association which has seen even loyal ANC and SACP cadres coming in for rough treatment. They in turn seem to have turned to Mo Shaik, the powerful boss of N1C0C, who was until recently a Senior Lecturer in Optometry at UDW.

Perhaps as a result of this Mo Shaik connection -and to the great indignation of the Rector, Dr Marcus Balintulo-NIA agents became openly active on the campus and a bug was discovered under the desk of the COMSA chairman, Professor Dhiru Soni. Revelations soon followed from campus opponents of Ashwin Desai, the COMSA president, that he had worked for BOSS/NIS under the apartheid regime - though such "revelations" could only have come from those with access to intelligence files.

Balintulo warned that "the appearance of agents from N1A on campus has implications for university autonomy and academic freedom" - and indeed the case recalls the bad old days of BOSS infiltration of liberal and left campuses in the 1960s and 1970s. Astonishingly, NIA spokesmen emerged to justify their action: "The point is made that we should have gone to the Rector: what happens if he said no?" said one. The UDW case - the most open and dramatic in post-1994 South Africa - received little mention in the national press.

Predictably - although it was of much lesser importance - the news that police had been called to intervene in a domestic quarrel in which NIA boss, Sigxashe, had allegedly drawn a gun on his wife and family, received far greater attention. The NIA, doubtless angry that the police report of this embarrassing allegation was deliberately leaked to the media, furiously denied the report.

There followed the sensational - and still unsolved - death of Muziwendoda Mduli, the NIA head of security, found dead in his car by a mysterious jogger who disappeared from the scene and could not be traced. [Police did not explain how the jogger was able to report the death without furnishing his own identity.] All manner of possible murder motives were adduced: Mduli had known of NIA involvement in the Comores coup, in gun-running to Rwanda, in taxi wars and so on.

Spooks versus police

Through the affair ran a strong undercurrent of hostility between the NIA and the police. Mduli's last hours saw him attend a noisy party of intelligence folk to which the police were called by complaining neighbours. The result was a heated argument, with guns drawn. Then, when Mduli's body was found, the police announced it as a suicide while Deputy Minister Nhlanhla declared it a murder.

The police were then prevailed upon to open an investigation which got nowhere. The NIA, clearly not trusting the police, opened an inquiry of their own. Nhlanhla used Mduli's funeral to launch a bitter attack on the police for their early verdict, while some NIA sources went so far as to suggest the complicity of the police in the murder of Mduli by a Z-Squad, linked to the old CCB unit at Vlakplaas.

The suspicion exists that the Mduli affair caused certain NIA elements to go hunting for Third Force elements in the police and that this is how Fivaz, other senior policemen and perhaps Hanekom too, came to be bugged. This was also advanced as an explanation for the allegations that Mbeki had instigated surveillance of certain officials in the Gauteng region.

Not long afterwards rumours of such NIA activity against the police began to circulate and Nhlanhla sent Mo Shaik to Commissioner Fivaz to tell him of the rumours and quash them at the same time. Fivaz had in fact already heard the rumours but agreed with Shaik that they should be ignored.

Fivaz thus knew that the NIA was very keen to prevent such rumours from breaking surface publicly - but when he subsequently discovered that he and other senior policemen were indeed being bugged, Fivaz's feelings can be imagined. By placing before the public both these facts and Dirk Coetzee's alleged boasting that he had been commissioned by the NIA to spy on Fivaz, the Commissioner was clearly signalling his anger and distrust of the NIA.

Parliamentary responsibility

A considerable burden of responsibility now rests upon the parliamentary committee on intelligence, chaired by Lindiwe Sisulu-Guma, which is to investigate the bugging of the police. The committee itself has had a fairly sharp initiation. The NIA has

made no secret of its belief that it should "screen" all MPs proposed for the committee, which could well mean that the agency would place under surveillance those charged with monitoring it.

On a recent trip to North America to acquaint themselves with the work of the US and Canadian oversight committees, 14 of the 15 committee members saw their bags "lost" in transit, and when the bags were recovered a number had patently been searched.

Sisulu-Guma, who is in the strong position of enjoying the support and respect of all parties on her committee, might usefully consider broadening her inquiry, for recent events have left a large number of questions to be answered. Apart from those raised in what has been written above, several other questions might be posed:
  • De Klerk seems to have washed his hands of his responsibilities for intelligence; Omar seems to leave things to his deputy, Joe Nhlanhla; Mbeki seems to be asserting some overall responsibility for the intelligence area; a whole series of other intelligence agencies report to Joe Modise and another again to Sidney Mufamadi; and there is a direct line of reporting through Mo Shaik to Mandela's office. Such pluralism is not necessarily a bad thing: we surely do not need a single, over-mighty intelligence supremo in the Van den Bergh/ Edgar Hoover mould. But is there adequate Ministerial control of the intelligence services?
 
  • Will South Africans ever really trust the security of their phones or mail while we have such a huge intelligence apparatus - for which there is so little justification?
 
  • On January 11, Mbeki announced that a judicial inquiry would be set up into the bugging of the police. "We want to deal urgently with this matter," he said. Omar later confirmed that a judge would be appointed within days. At the time of going to press this had still not happened. Why?
 
  • Dirk Coetzee, who allegedly told Superintendent Hoothra Moodley that he had been set to spy on Fivaz, later denied this report. Coetzee, Fivaz and Moodley were all to sit lie-detector tests on the issue. Both Fivaz and Coetzee did [both passing] but Moodley, who had volunteered for a test, was not allowed to take one. Why?

    When allegations were made that Mbeki and Mufamadi had instigated surveillance of certain Gauteng officials, Fivaz took them seriously enough to announce immediately that he was ordering a probe into the matter and also referring it to the region's Attorney-General. What is the outcome of these inquiries?
 
  • Dirk Coetzee has admitted to having murdered the anti-apartheid activist, Griffiths Mxenge; to having bombed homes in Swaziland, killing two; to kidnapping; to a long career of car theft; to having several times perjured himself; and to having attempted falsely to incriminate a colleague in the Boipatong massacre. Yet in February 1995 the NIA appointed Coetzee head of its unit handling subversion and terrorism. Was this really a wise appointment? And what does it reveal of the nature of decision making within the NIA?
 
  • It has emerged that the NIA is illegally intercepting thousands of international fax and phone lines from South Africa. The NIA spokesperson, Mr William Theron, claimed that such measures were only taken against "enemies of the state" but declined to answer the question whether or not such action was constitutional. Who has decided who are "the enemies of the state"? Has each such intercept been made with the requisite permission from a judge? How can the NIA not know whether or not its actions are unconstitutional - has it not considered that question?

These are not small matters. South Africa needs to be rid, once and for all, of the security psychosis born under the apartheid police state. There is now a splendid opportunity for Sisulu-Guma's committee to exercise parliamentary supervision of this unhappy mess and to assert that neither the Constitution nor the sovereignty of Parliament will be lightly mocked.