Cyril Ramaphosa and intelligence watchdog face off

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

President Cyril Ramaphosa's office has denied that he's trying to muzzle South Africa's intelligence watchdog - by opposing the Inspector-General of Intelligence's (IGI's) court bid for greater independence.

Instead, his office said he believes Inspector-General of Intelligence Dr Sethlomamaru Dintwe's push for greater independence from the State Security Agency (SSA) can, and should, be resolved through his recently instituted intelligence review process.

Ramaphosa's spokesman Khusela Diko said he had opposed the IGI's legal bid for greater independence "because the president believes this is not a matter that should be decided by the courts".

"The president has announced a comprehensive review of the intelligence services, and the issue of the IGI's legal status will be examined as part of that process," she said.

Essentially, Diko suggested, Ramaphosa did not believe the legal complexity that surrounded intelligence oversight should be resolved through court processes.

Dintwe went to court after former director-general of the SSA, Arthur Fraser, revoked the security clearance he needed to investigate multiple serious allegations against Fraser himself.

In addition to several claims made against Fraser over his alleged involvement in the Principal Agents Network, several political parties and ministers have also complained to the IGI that they have been subjected to illegal surveillance and phone tapping.

Dintwe is also investigating why the executive seemingly failed to act on evidence of alleged wrongdoing by Fraser.

He successfully fought for the restoration of his security clearance earlier this year, and is now seeking an order that "the Director-General of the State Security Agency has no authority to grant, revise or revoke the security clearance of the Inspector-General of Intelligence".

It is that order that Ramaphosa opposes. Diko was at pains to stress that this did not mean that the president was opposed to greater independence for the IGI.

While the matter is understood to currently be the subject of negotiations between lawyers for the president and the IGI, Dintwe's lawyer Jac Marais declined to comment on the possibility that the case would be settled out of court.

Diko, meanwhile, confirmed on Tuesday that Ramaphosa would seek to appeal an order that the Presidency hand over the record of former president Jacob Zuma's decision to fire former finance minister Pravin Gordhan - a case that has a direct bearing on his legal battle with the DA over Fraser's position in government.

The president is currently fighting the DA's challenge to the rationality of his decision to move Fraser to a powerful new position at Correctional Services, despite Dintwe's explosive claims against him.

The DA wants him to provide the record of that decision, which is essentially the material before him that motivated that move. Diko previously suggested that providing such record may be difficult "in situations where political decisions are made".

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