SCA ruling exposes State Security Agency's dubious secrecy tactics and ANC vulnerability to foreign interests

The real value of the IOL, Independent Media, and Thabo Makwakwa’s legal victory at the SCA is to reveal the SSA be open to abuse to achieve political ends of individuals and groupings inside the ANC.

The real value of the IOL, Independent Media, and Thabo Makwakwa’s legal victory at the SCA is to reveal the SSA be open to abuse to achieve political ends of individuals and groupings inside the ANC.

Published Apr 7, 2024


The Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling in favour of Independent Media, IOL, and journalist Thabo Makwakwa is a scathing indictment of the State Security Agency (SSA).

Pull back the layers of spook stories of US capture of prominent African National Congress (ANC) politicians, it is a judgment that reveals the insouciant misuse of the mechanisms of the SSA to spare fight internal battles of the ANC.

The leaked intelligence report, read together with the judgment of the SCA brings into focus a snapshot of a time of fierce internal contestation within the ANC, how the SSA is used to fight factional battles along the fault-lines within South African intelligence structures.


In December 2021, IOL journalist Thabo Makwakwa was handed a purported intelligence report of the State Security Agency. This report was alleged to contain intelligence that United States intelligence had infiltrated the ANC and its leadership to such an extent that it could influence or subvert national policy.

Makwakwa asked those implicated in the report for comment, including officials from the SSA, the US Embassy, and the ANC.

Within 48 hours, the high court had ruled ex parte that Makwakwa was in unlawful possession of the report and that its publication would harm state security. He was interdicted from publishing the report.

Nearly two and a half years later, the Supreme Court of Appeal’s (SCA) ruling that the classification of the intelligence report was against the public interest and lacked sufficient grounds for such secrecy is a tremendous victory for the rights of the free press in South Africa.


When it comes to misinformation, manipulation, selective leaks, and serving nebulous interests, intelligence agents play for the first team. Journalism, and the media is a theatre of operations in intelligence. Many journalists have been sold a dummy by intelligence operatives, and some have suffered career ending consequences as a result.

When we examine the intelligence reach into the media, we have to set a very high bar of plausibility to logically assess the veracity of the claims made, and whose interests those claims serve.

When a gift horse descends from the lofty heights of the intelligence heavens, journalists must be prepared to engage in an extended amount of equine dentistry.

It is almost a certainty that this intelligence report is what it purports to be; a bona fide intelligence report of the State Security Agency. We know this, because the SSA have made a claim to it as the owner thereof in a court of law.

But just because it’s an intelligence report, it doesn’t necessarily speak to the veracity of its contents. The extraordinary claims outlined within require extraordinary evidence, none of which is as yet in the public domain.

To be accused of being a US collaborator within the ANC, or the liberation movement is a grievous accusation. It is an accusation that has been weaponised throughout the liberation struggle, at times baselessly used to smear and even mortally imperil the comrade against whom the accusation is made.

Having said that, we know that the US spies on South Africa. We know that they have reach into every political party, some to a greater extent than others. The US is not here to sell girl scout cookies. It has interests. To this end, it collects human and signals intelligence on an industrial scale.

The US is not here to sell girl scout cookies.

The intelligence report’s claims of the US gathering intelligence through a network of senior ANC party officials, ‘who wittingly or unwittingly, share privileged information’ conjures up the most amazing imagery of the caricature of the formerly glorious ANC cadre.

Soldiers of the former glorious liberation movement. Loose lipped comrades well into their fifth or sixth double Macallan on the rocks, drinks they will most definitely not be paying for, volunteering the secrets of the revolution in acts of braggadocio, or transacting as information brokers for personal gain.

Even if this, and other claims that the report makes of infiltration with other political parties is half true, the reality of intelligence collection by the US is far more banal. They read the internet. They speak to conference delegates. They also scrape all your data every time you use Uber, or log into your Facebook or pick up your phone, or laptop.

Well before the dystopian app-based panopticon that we live in, Julian Assange’s leaks of the diplomatic cables in 2010 revealed forty four years worth of US diplomats' assessment of host countries and their officials and the party politicians, some true, others as hilariously off colour, as they were laughably inaccurate.

With the passage of time, we can test some of the claims of the report against the objective reality of what has happened in South Africa over the last two and a half years. If it is true that a large-scale US intelligence operation within the ANC to influence the policy direction of South Africa exists, then it is a complete failure.


With those caveats in place, even with the more implausible elements of the intelligence report being shaved away by Occam’s razor, what remains in the story in the wake of the SCA’s judgment is a disturbing picture of the blatant weaponisation of the intelligence services, and the blurred lines between party and state.

The SSA is constitutionally barred from involving itself in the ANC internal political contestation. As the SCA’s judgment makes clear, this didn’t stop certain people from abusing SSA processes in this exact manner.

The SCA ruled that the report's classification as "secret" was unjustified and against the public interest, and that releasing the report to the public would not compromise national security. It overturned the order of the high court and set aside the interdict brought by the SSA against Independent Media, IOL and Makwakwa.

The Minister of State Security’s arguments before the high court were shocking indictments of the cavalier blurring of the lines between party and state. The Minister argued that the gag order should be imposed, not to protect the national security and sovereignty of the Republic of South Africa, but rather to stave off a threat to the stability of the ANC.

This is not what a constitutional democracy does.

The real value of the IOL, Independent Media, and Thabo Makwakwa’s legal victory at the SCA is to reveal the SSA be open to abuse to achieve political ends of individuals and groupings inside the ANC.

Even if the SSA, which was moved into the Presidency in 2021, were to embark on a process of clearing those implicated by the report, it would then have to face serious questions as to how such a report could be accepted as a bona fide intelligence report.

Either, senior ANC are corrupt proxies for US interests, or our intelligence structures are all too easily abused for factional purposes. It’s one, or the other, or a little bit of both.

The credibility of South Africa’s long-battered intelligence entities is pinned to the restructuring of the intelligence services according to the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill.

And even after the passage of this bill, who knows what skeletons may yet come tumbling out the closet as a result of years of weaponisation of the SSA, in whole or in part, by a procession of intelligence-linked ANC bigwigs.

The real value of the IOL, Independent Media, and Thabo Makwakwa’s legal victory at the SCA is to reveal the SSA be open to abuse to achieve political ends of individuals and groupings inside the ANC.

There exists a delicate tension between balancing national security concerns with the public's right to information.

Security and intelligence structures are constitutionally mandated to protect national security and sovereignty of the Republic of South Africa. Constitutional rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and the right to a fair trial serve as checks on the power of these agencies.

This equilibrium can only be maintained if the entropy of the ruling party is kept as far away as possible from the organs of state that are charged by the constitution to protect the sovereignty and security of the state and its people. There can be no space for interference of any party in the security apparatus of the state.

Perhaps the real lesson to be drawn from this judgment, besides the value of a free press, is that the ANC is inward looking, worn down to a nub of the spear it used to be. For some ANC leaders who seek to accrue or retain power, the organs of state serve as staging grounds for internecine battles for supremacy over a koppie that becomes smaller and smaller with every brutal factional engagement.

Not even the institutions that are charged with protecting the sovereignty of the Republic are off limits.

The irony is that wearing down such critical institutions really does make us ripe for capture by foreign interests, intelligence and otherwise.

* Roscoe Palm is an investigative journalist and independent commentator and analyst.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.