R2K calls for David Mahlobo to be removed as State Security Minister
It is long past time that State Security Minister David Mahlobo goes.
This week the Minister was revealed to have an unexplained personal relationship with a self-confessed rhino horn trafficker. His denials of any links to this person ring hollow when he also contradicted himself in front of Parliament on a different issue:
On Monday he told a public seminar, “I know Mcebo [Dlamini]. He has been to my house several times.”
On Wednesday, he told Parliament, ““Mcebo [Dlamini] has never been to my house.”
One of those statements is untrue: the question is if he misled a public seminar or misled Parliament itself. If he misled us on this issue, when can the Minister’s words be trusted?
These are just events from the past few days. In the last two years, Mahlobo has presided over a dangerous creep of state security into our politics and public life. This period has seen continued decline in trust between the State Security Agency and the broader public.
A dangerous creep of State Security
The dangerous creep of State Security in democratic South African life has escalated under Mahlobo’s watch, and again showed itself in this week’s events.
On Monday, Mahlobo repeated his defamatory claim of civil society organisations with a “regime change” agenda. In previous statements, he has followed this by threatening to ‘de-register’ organisations that pursue activities that he believes should not be tolerated.
He has revealed that State Security has become so paranoid that it has even concerned itself with the ideological contents of university curricula, saying this week that the SSA has a list of academics whose teaching of Pan African studies at universities is conditioning students into “Afro-pessimism”.
We view these statements as the latest and most high profile expression of paranoid and accusatory language that has come to infect South Africa’s democratic space.
The pattern of accusations
The allegations are offered without evidence or substantiation. No names are named. No charges have been laid before a court of law. As a result, they could apply to nobody or they could apply to anybody. They cannot be verified or refuted.
An emerging pattern of paranoia and suspicion in South African politics and public life makes it impossible to take the Minister’s claims at face value.
Too many times have legitimate movements, organisations and causes been labelled as ‘threats’, and activities of some ‘third force’, often by senior politicians and leaders of the security cluster. It is an old formula for suppression, but recently, this kind of paranoid and accusatory language has become an increasing feature of South Africa’s public life.
It is troubling evidence of a tendency for the leaders of South Africa’s security agencies to view certain constitutional activities and pro-democratic activism as ‘threats’ to ‘security’ and ‘stability’.
Spooks running amok
This language has been accompanied by other forms of suppression that see legitimate movements and causes re-framed as ‘threats’ to ‘stability’. There is growing evidence that intelligence structures monitor and harass activist movements and other civil society formations, as well as investigative journalists. We have also seen the anonymous leaking of bogus ‘intelligence reports’ to advantage or disadvantage certain political causes and figures, speaking to a sorry history of factionalisation of some sectors of the intelligence agencies, who have abused their powers unconstitutionally to get involved in democratic politics.
This is why fears of surveillance have become a profound feature of many struggles for human rights across South Africa.
Defending the democratic space
There are real threats to people’s safety in South Africa where many people would agree that the intelligence agencies have a role to play: these tackling include gangsterism and organised crime, xenophobic attacks, the worrying trend of political assassinations – and, of course, criminality and brutality in the security structures. There are also potential threats to South Africa’s constitutional order, including the phenomenon of state capture, and the risk of political manipulation of important state institutions such as the police and security agencies.
It is clear that the situation becomes worse, not better, when intelligence agencies and their political leaders turn their sights on political activists who exercise their basic right to dissent, and who work to defend and build democracy on the ground.
This week David Mahlobo showed conclusively that his words cannot be trusted. Whatever role he may have had in building a safer and more democratic South Africa is now impossible.