Abuse of state security apparatus must stop

AS SOUTH Africans we must be vigilant that elements of our democratic state, especially the state security apparatus, do not return to the strong-arm tactics, dirty tricks and law-unto-themselves behaviour of the apartheid era.

AS SOUTH Africans we must be vigilant that elements of our democratic state, especially the state security apparatus, do not return to the strong-arm tactics, dirty tricks and law-unto-themselves behaviour of the apartheid era.

As is now becoming increasingly clear from the many court trials towards the end of the presidential term of Thabo Mbeki, elements of the security apparatus increasingly started to behave like their apartheid predecessors in their muzzling of rivals, illegitimate criticism of the state and abuse of power for personal and factional interests.

The leadership succession battle of the ANC, ahead of the party's December 2007 Polokwane national conference, saw rival factions inside the ANC often using state security agencies, the police and intelligence services, to try to eliminate each other.

At the height of the tussle a state of paranoia reigned, with smear campaigns, deliberately planted of stories, entrapment, such as the attempt by rogue intelligence agents to plant drugs on a Mail & Guardian journalist, being used as a devastating weapon to discredit opponents.

High on President Jacob Zuma's priority list must be to put a stop to senior ANC or government leaders abusing the security apparatus of the state for personal and factional interests.

The president must make sure that allies, now in control of the ANC and government, do not use the state security apparatus for revenge attack, or abuse it to trip up opponents.

For starters, the idea of setting up a department of state security is not only a waste of scarce resources, but is simply out of place, in the kind of caring democracy we want to create in South Africa.

For another, the new, muscular shoot-to-kill and ask-questions-later-policy of the police is undemocratic. Furthermore, the proposals to militarise the police service, complete with military ranks such as general, are also completely wrong.

Increasing suggestions of sending intelligence officials to probe social delivery protests is dangerous.

Continuing poverty, combined with a lack of service delivery, mismanagement, public corruption and the unfairness of leaders and their family and friends living in the lap of luxury, subsidised by taxpayers' money and then having the arrogance to tell the poor to be patient, and that there is no money for redistribution, is an explosive mix.

The fallout from the ANC's succession battles has left dangerous divisions in the entire state security apparatus, which is in itself a threat to the stability of the country.

There are likely to be intelligence and police operatives from the apartheid era, and the democratic dispensation, who are walking around selling incriminating information to the highest bidders, potentially to be used again to knee-cap opponents, secure a government tender or seal a business deal.

We must bring the security apparatus - police, intelligence and army - under civilian control.

The first step must be to depoliticise the state security apparatus. It is also unacceptable that senior figures in the state security apparatus have such extensive business interests.

To simply declare it, and stay in office, is just not on. The watchdogs, ombudsman offices and regulatory institutions set up to guard over the state security apparatus, must not only be on high alert for abuses; they must act resolutely to stamp it out.

l Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC

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