November 1991


Editors Note:

For the past two years, phrases like "normalization", "law and order" and "reform" have punctuated much of the officialese from South Africa. In his previous Commentaries, Dr. R. Henderson has examined the reality behind such language, against the backdrop of intense and unabated violence as that country enters a delicate period of transition. In this issue, Dr. Henderson traces the equally delicate and complex relationship President de Klerk has had to deal with the intelligence services within his own government—a community of "securocrats" which has traditionally exercised extensive control over the state's decision-making process.

Commentary is a regular publication of the Analysis and Production Branch of CSIS.

Disclaimer: Publication of an article in the COMMENTARY series does not imply CSIS authentication of the information nor CSIS endorsement of the author's views.

Into the Political Transition

Since F.W. de Klerk assumed the presidency in August 1989, there have been rising political expectations and fears among South Africans, both black and white, as a result of his efforts towards the 'normalization' of political activities within the country. This normalization has been accompanied by an escalating spiral of violence—often indiscriminate and motiveless, whether political or criminal [see Commentary #7, December 1990]. In this ongoing period of political transition and intense violence, what has been President de Klerk's relationship with the various South African intelligence services he inherited?

Is the "Old" Securocrat Network Still in Place?

Under former President P.W. Botha, the "securocrats"—seconded personnel from the South African security establishment—exercised extensive influence over state decision-making and policy implementation. The key elements of the securocrat establishment were the State Security Council (SSC) and its implementation instrument, the National Security Management System (NSMS).

The SSC was established by the 1972 Security Intelligence and State Security Act, with responsibility to "advise the government on the formulation of national policy and strategy in relation to the security of the country", and for determining national intelligence priorities. Although it is the only cabinet-level committee created by statute, it was not referred to as such in the Act. Its standing membership was designated to include the Prime Minister (later State President) as chairman, the four Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and Police (now Law and Order), the senior cabinet member if not already included in the above portfolios, the senior officials for Security Intelligence (now the National Intelligence Service (NIS) ), South African Defence Force (SADF), the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, and South African Police (SAP), and other cabinet ministers and department heads who "may from time to time be co-opted" by the chairman.

In response to the country-wide black unrest of 1984-86, the NSMS was developed to provide the SSC with a network of regional security committees with broad "law and order" powers to implement and co-ordinate local political and security policies. Operating from Joint Management Committees (JMCs) headed by the SADF regional commanders, the main objective of the system was to placate local socio-economic grievances in the black townships while suppressing protest movements. In effect, the JMCs would oversee improvements to local infrastructure and housing, while also co-ordinating the security crackdowns on anti-apartheid activists.

Repeatedly the South African government and its security components are described in terms of a so-called division between "hawks", who are seen to include some members of de Klerk's cabinet and the security establishment as a whole, and "doves" (who constitute the majority in the cabinet) as well as the key departments of constitutional development, finance and foreign affairs. Another perspective separates these two groups into securocrat commanders and civilian politicians. What is often missed in these ongoing perspectives is that the so-called securocrat hawks and civilian doves in the South African government have tended to share common concerns about what they see as major threats to South Africa's—primarily white South Africans'—security. Their differences have centred on the issue of the "means to be utilized" to ensure this security—destabilization by use of force or negotiation from strength.

In addition to those who support "reform with security" and those who favour "force to ensure white security", there is a further sinister "element" within South Africa responsible for some of the repeated indiscriminate acts of violence—whether by direct action, indirect manipulation or financial commission. All of its components appear to be products of the "security and destabilization" milieu in the Southern African region over the last two decades. Although often referred to in the South African media as "a third force", African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela recently acknowledged that the people carrying out the killings "may not be belonging to any particular organization" [New York Times, 10 September 1991].

Rather, this amorphous "mafia-like network"—including whites and blacks—seems to be comprised of former securocrat officials, ex-government security personnel, individuals who have financially gained (or lost) as a result of regional upheaval, and a variety of non-governmental units which practice clandestine activities. These latter units include various black homeland security forces, extremist groupings (white and black), and some private business concerns—including those from former Rhodesia and the Portuguese African colonies—which have benefited from the previous security-dominated policy agenda of the South African government.

Presidential Change of Command

In his position as head of government, de Klerk's cabinet leadership style is reputed to be by "consensus, persuasion and argument ... consulting closely with his cabinet before taking major decisions" [The Star, Johannesburg, 10 February 1990]. He has increased the number of cabinet meetings, including introducing bosberaads ("brainstorming" retreats) in the Transvaal bush with his key ministers.

Even so, de Klerk inherited all his ministers concerned with security affairs, as well as key public service bureaucrats, from the former president's securocrat network. The ministers, all with substantial service under P.W. Botha, included the Defence Minister, General Magnus Malan (former SADF chief under then Defence Minister Botha), the Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok (responsible for the SAP and former Deputy Minister of Defence and of Law and Order), Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee (former Deputy Minister of Defence and a longtime special adviser to President Botha on intelligence and security matters, including the 1979 NIS reorganization) and Foreign Affairs Minister R.F. "Pik" Botha.

But de Klerk's early reform proposals suggested he would rely less on the secretive NSMS structure and the securocrats who manned it, and more on his own political advisers—including Constitutional Development Minister Gerrit Viljoen and Justice Minister Coetsee—who called for power-sharing negotiations with moderate black leaders. In an interview given before de Klerk assumed the Office of the President, his brother and political commentator Wimpie de Klerk suggested that, while being unable totally to exclude the military presence from the South African policy-making, "he [the president-designate] will be more dependent on national intelligence [service], not on military intelligence" upon becoming president [Africa Report, July-August 1989, p. 36].

One of de Klerk's first decisions upon assuming the post of State President following the September 1989 election was to move the Bureau for Information (BI) and the NIS under the Office of the President. This meant that the government agencies for both open government media activities and secret intelligence co-ordination would be directly responsible to him. ( Under Botha, the NIS had reported to both the President and the SSC.) By this point, de Klerk had already decided to use the NIS—unlike Botha's use of the SSC—as his principal source of intelligence and his personal instrument for conducting confidential presidential initiatives.

In the fall of 1989, the de Klerk government's essential prelude to beginning its own political reform agenda was to draft Namibia's independence constitution. This called for an elected constituent assembly and specified that the election, in order to be internationally recognized, had to be declared "free and fair" by the United Nations. At the start of the elections in November, SADF military intelligence claimed to have intercepted a series of radio messages suggesting an armed incursion by South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas into Namibia to establish internal base areas. Without "authenticating" the messages, military intelligence reportedly passed them to Foreign Minister Pik Botha, who presented them to resident Western ambassadors as evidence of a SWAPO plan to subvert the elections. There was considerable official government embarrassment when the intelligence "coup" turned out to be a hoax, as the messages were subsequently proven to be fakes.

Re-asserting Cabinet Control

This episode of renegade intelligence activities finally drove de Klerk to take definitive action in his dealings with the South African intelligence services. He subsequently issued a number of directives intended to impose firm cabinet control over the intelligence services and their ongoing covert operations.

The NSMS implementation structure was dismantled while the SSC was restructured to operate under the newly created Cabinet Committee for Security Affairs, one of the four standing cabinet committees. Meeting fortnightly under the chairmanship of the president himself, the CCSA appears to convene separately from or jointly with the SSC as determined by de Klerk, who chairs both.

The formerly dominant SSC—now operating under the decision-making CCSA in an advisory capacity—includes all security affairs ministers and other co-opted ministers as well as all the heads of the relevant departments and security commands. This re-structuring has restored the Cabinet to its constitutional role as the highest decision-making body. Also, as a result, the Office of the President, which had grown under P.W. Botha to accommodate the increasingly centralized decision-making by his circle of security advisers, was scaled down, with policy-making functions returned to the responsible departments.

Along with the SCC's downgrading, its vast secretariat was "streamlined" from its 100-plus staff of seconded securocrats to only the few needed to co-ordinate information from the various security services—rather than its previously accumulated roles of analyzing multi-service intelligence input, generating policy options within the Botha government's "Total Strategy" and implementing SSC-approved ones through the NSMS committee structure. According to de Klerk, the NSMS structure itself was to be abolished and an inquiry into "mechanisms to fill this gap" instituted.

Turning to covert operations and special accounts, de Klerk ordered a full investigation of "covert security force functions" with the declared purpose "to ensure and exercise not only financial control but also cabinet control over such [secret] projects". In addition, "some" secret projects were "immediately cancelled", including a reduction in the anti-sanctions activities funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In a March 1990 special session of the South African Parliament called for the purpose, de Klerk publicly announced that he had initiated the "covert functions" investigation, even though it was still ongoing. He went on to point out that a cabinet decision had been taken to restrict all "special secret projects", that covert actions should be limited to the "absolutely essential minimum" and that there would be a review of the legislation controlling the use of secret funds [SAPA, 1 March 1990].

A number of changes in the security legislation were made, including cancelling the previous power of the Minister of Finance to suppress information about unauthorized expenditure if he considered it in the national interest, or to exclude specific amounts from the scrutiny of the government Auditor General [The Star, Johannesburg, 2 August 1991]. When the investigation was completed in mid-1990, "numerous covert actions were cancelled in an orderly fashion", though some actions "continued in the broad national interest... subject to cabinet control and are being carefully and firmly managed", according to President de Klerk [SAPA, 19 and 31 July 1991].

Furthermore, a "standing instruction" for a comprehensive re-evaluation of all remaining projects had been issued "with a view to scaling them down and adapting them to the new circumstances in the country". Even so, secret expenditures could still be requested and used in special projects by a minister if his department did not possess a special account, with the approval of the minister from whose special account the funds were to come. Finally, the expenditure records were made available for annual review by the Auditor General.

The government intelligence services—the NIS, the SAP's Security Branch, and the SADF's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI)—were all, at this time, covertly operating within the country as well as elsewhere on the continent and overseas. This resulted not only in some duplication of their clandestine activities but also in intra-service rivalries.

To regularize their areas of responsibility, de Klerk reportedly imposed functional limits on the three intelligence services as "numerous covert actions were cancelled in an orderly fashion" [SAPA, 1 March 1990]. On 10 January 1990, he addressed 500 senior SAP commanders on the need to concentrate on rising crime rather than on anti-state political activities, although the Security Branch was to continue its functions of field (internal) intelligence gathering and detection of military underground structures. In April 1991 the Security Branch was combined with the Criminal Investigation Division into a new Crime Combatting and Investigation unit (CCI). But the new CCI has been placed under the command of SAP General Basie Smit, who had commanded the Security Branch prior to the merger and, according to Department of Law and Order press releases, the Security Branch organization and command structure have been retained within the CCI.

At the same time, the NIS was to retain its role of national intelligence co-ordination and assessment for the president and the SSC, but answerable only to the president. It was also to maintain liaison with "friendly" intelligence agencies in Africa and overseas through a combination of information exchanges and, in some cases, provision of training and material assistance—while also expanding its contacts and intelligence gathering.

The emergence of the NIS as primus inter pares was unambiguously underlined by the civilian- oriented State President in April 1990, according to a South African academic with strong links with the security establishment [Simon Baynham, Journal of Modern African Studies, September 1990, p. 429]. Speaking at the NIS' 21st Anniversary banquet, de Klerk reportedly praised "the NIS' objective reporting" whilst obliquely intimating that the other services had blotted their copybooks by advancing subjective preferences and interests. But even the NIS has suffered from leaked security information.

In the case of the DMI, de Klerk has acknowledged that soon after taking office, he was briefed on the internal workings of the SADF, including its clandestine Special Forces, "the eyes and ears of the SADF". Although this briefing reportedly included covert operations, he has since stated that the smaller sub-sections of the many branches of the defence force were not explained in any detail. As such, he claimed to have learned of the existence of the clandestine Civil Co-operation Bureau—accused of having directed government death squads against anti-apartheid activists—for the first time only in January 1990, when then Defence Minister Malan had informed him.

In turn, General Malan himself claimed to have learned of its existence only the previous November, apparently when de Klerk requested the "covert functions" investigation. In terms of ministerial authority, however, Malan would have had to approve the use of any Defence special account funding for its 1986 creation and subsequent operations.

While the effect and extent of the restrictions placed on military intelligence remain unclear, it was most likely de Klerk's intention to curb the range of SADF covert activities within the country relative to the Security Branch and the NIS. On 7 March 1990, he repeated his SAP commanders' meeting with one for senior SADF commanders, where he pointed out that the armed forces in the future would concentrate on securing the country's borders while providing internal assistance in controlling unrest areas only "if requested" by the SAP regional commands.

In November 1990, partially to alleviate the increasing demands of "intelligence matters" on the State President, de Klerk appointed Roelf Meyer as Deputy Minister of Information Services in the President's Office. Meyer was placed in charge of both the government's public information image and "intelligence matters"—the NIS and the SSC. The appointment has been seen as a move by which Meyer would mould the intelligence service into an institution able to supply analysis, interpretation and intelligence "more appropriate to a negotiating president" [SouthScan, 16 November 1990, p. 325].

The "New" Securocrats?

Inherited from the P.W. Botha era, Defence Minister Malan and Law and Order Minister Vlok have been repeatedly denounced by opposition groups and the media as hardline "hawks" for their confrontational approach and their failure to halt the violence. The ANC in particular had consistently called for their resignations. Despite evidence from recent judicial inquiries into secret government death squads, de Klerk continued to support his ministers publicly, pointing out "that the army and the police are not under investigation as organizations" [SAPA news report, 23 February 1990].

His support gave way soon after. With the July 1991 revelations about the government's "Inkathagate" covert funding to Chief Mangesuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and covert funding to seven anti-SWAPO political parties in the 1989 Namibian elections, Malan and Vlok were demoted from their security-related portfolios. Although they lost their seniority as well as their ex-officio membership on both the CCSA and the SSC, they remain full cabinet members. As such, de Klerk as chairman of both forums, can co-opt them onto each or both without public notice.

When asked about his cabinet demotion, General Malan replied that "a good man succeeds me and I will help him where I can" [SAPA, 29 July 1991]. This would seem to include advice in cabinet on security matters. His replacement, Roelf Meyer, in addition to his new portfolio as Minister of Defence, was appointed Minister of Communications with responsibility for the South African Communications Service. While Meyer appears to have retained responsibility for the government's media efforts, he dropped his responsibility for "intelligence matters" in the President's Office.

Theo Alant, in addition to his previous post as Deputy Minister of Finance, was appointed Deputy Minister for the National Intelligence Service. In view of the government revelations concerning the Finance Ministry's administration of special accounts and secret funding, with which Alant would have been involved, his new joint responsibility suggests he has become the cabinet watchdog over continuing covert operations and their funding. And the new Minister of Law and Order Hernus Kriel—first appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Planning and Housing by de Klerk following the 1989 election—will deal with crime fighting and the government's image in the urban areas and townships in his present post.


President de Klerk continues to be accused of having done "little or nothing to shake off the culture of clandestine operations and secret funds" inherited from the P.W. Botha era [The Cape Times editorial, 22 July 1991].

But just like the ANC with its clandestine Operation Vula to establish safe houses and arms caches within the country—discovered by the Security Branch in July 1990 but started three years earlier—the de Klerk government with its Inkathagate slush fund scandal found that covert operations begun before the political normalization were difficult to stop or revise. After nearly three decades of active armed struggle between government security services and militant activists, it is almost certain that there were security commanders in each case who advised that it was best to let the operations proceed "just in case the negotiations process broke down".

Based on his detailed parliamentary speeches, de Klerk has made substantial changes in the way the intelligence services and clandestine operations are run—albeit within his reformist view of "law and order" [see Commentary, #5, August 1990] and in accord with his constitutional negotiating strategy. Even so, "grudge leaks" of security information and covert activities have been released to the media, both by conservative elements among the government security services and by political opposition "moles" who have infiltrated government ranks.

They have different reasons for leaking this information. By embarrassing de Klerk and his key ministers, information has been leaked by ANC supporters in the hope of providing the black opposition with negotiating leverage over the government. Alternatively, the leaks by white conservative elements are almost certainly intended to try to derail the negotiations process or, however unlikely, to provoke the government into re-implementing the earlier "armed suppression" approach in line with the traditional view of "law and order".

How can de Klerk counter both information leaks and renegade security activities? First, he will continue to maintain the loyalty of his security commanders and to control the various intelligence services in support of his reformist political agenda. For this, he will depend on those commanders he has appointed and the NIS for intelligence estimates and co-ordination, despite their reported "hawkish" profiles.

Next, he will further restrict, through legislation and policy direction, such renegade elements within the security establishment and others outside of the government forces who would continue to destabilize the constitutional negotiations. The government has already committed substantial counter-intelligence resources to tracking those within its ranks who are leaking security information. Nevertheless, greater allocation of intelligence resources is urgently needed to locate and identify the perpetrators of the continuing massacres of black township residents and railway commuters.

Finally, there is the appearance that the South African government, like many governments in the West, is beginning to re-focus its intelligence tasking on newly-emerging "environmental" threats to national security, such as international drug trafficking. Recently, Britain and South Africa signed an agreement to combat the international drug trade, including exchange of intelligence "to trace, freeze and confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking".

Commentary is a regular publication of the Analysis and Production Branch of CSIS. Inquires regarding submissions may be made to the Chairman of the Editorial Board at the following address:

The views expressed herein are those of the author, who may be contacted by writing to :

P.O.Box 9732
Postal Station T 
Ottawa, Ontario K1G 4G4 
FAX: (613) 842-1312

ISSN 1192-277X
Catalogue JS73-1/15

Disclaimer: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service assumes no responsibility for the use of the information at this World Wide Web (WWW) site.

© CSIS/SCRS 1999