New State Security Minister Bongani Bongo says he is certain that he has the experience to run the State Security Agency, despite his background primarily as an advocate.
He will replace outgoing David Mahlobo, who was moved to head up the energy portfolio.
Bongo, an ANC MP and a lawyer by profession, was adamant that he had the right stuff to be state security minister, despite no prior experience in the security and intelligence community.
“Before I came to Parliament, I was chief director of integrity management in the office of the Premier in Mpumalanga,” he said.
“I would say it is related stuff. Also, since 2014, I’ve been in the same [peace and security] cluster on security related issues.”
His experience at the provincial government level and in drafting important security bills while serving as an MP had given him an introduction to security issues.
When asked what he would do to brush up on the information required to run the portfolio, he said: “I will meet the institutions who report [to the minister]. It has people and I will take briefs. I’ll also take a brief from the previous minister and then map a way forward.”
‘I feel lifted up’
Bongo said an important issue was the cybercrimes and cyber security bill currently before the justice and correctional services portfolio committee.
His predecessor Mahlobo has previously said that social media could be regulated in future.
Bongo said he would be in a better position to comment further on his position once he has met with all the stakeholders in the portfolio.
A surprised looking Bongo told News24 he had received the phone call from Zuma on Tuesday morning, just before the announcement was made.
He was now just looking forward to the new job.
“I feel lifted up, that the president could see some capacity from my side. I feel I must serve with honour and humility.”
‘It’s the president’s prerogative’
Bongo dismissed any future criticism of Zuma’s latest reshuffle, saying it was his right as president.
“The prerogative of appointment lies with the president, in consultation with the party.
“Anyone who serves as a minister serves at the behest of the president. I’m just honoured to get the invitation to serve at that level.”
Those in the ANC who felt the reshuffle would further divide the party should respect the president’s position, he said.
“The president is empowered by the Constitution. The provisions of the president must be respected at all times.
“Even here in Parliament, we are serving because we were sent by the ANC itself. So at all times, we will do what the ANC says.”
He said he was grateful to get the opportunity. He did not know when he would be sworn in, but believed it would happen this week in Cape Town.
The South African Communist Party’s secretary general Blade Nzimande was axed as higher education minister in the reshuffle.
Bongo was sworn in as an MP of the 5th Parliament in May 2014. He currently serves on the Portfolio Committees on Justice and Correctional Services, and Defence and Military Veterans.
Last week, Bongo strongly defended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane while the portfolio committee on justice deliberated the merits of an inquiry into her conduct.
He labelled the issue a “Democratic Alliance ploy” and “neither here nor there”, saying it was a waste of Parliament’s time to set up an ad hoc committee to probe her conduct.
In August, Bongo publicly backed Zuma to stay on as president during the failed motion of no confidence in his presidency via secret ballot.
He told News24 at the time that it would be disingenuous for any ANC MP to vote against the party line.
“The people voted for the ANC into power. So the ANC decided to put me on the list, so I have to abide by what the ANC says I must do,” Bongo had said.
Role of SSA
Former state security ministers have usually been key allies for Zuma during his tenure as president.
The SSA itself is mandated to provide the government with intelligence on domestic and foreign threats, and potential threats to national stability.
It is, therefore, mandated with powers to probe private and public information, through legal processes defined by the Intelligence Services Act.
It is also the only department that reports to Parliament and the joint standing committee on intelligence during closed meetings, to protect national security.
The SSA also vets all key public appointments through Parliamentary processes, such as the Auditor General, board appointments, such as the SABC, top police staff and the Public Protector.
It was created in October 2009 – following Zuma’s call to reorganise the intelligence components of government – to incorporate the formerly separate National Intelligence Agency, South African Secret Service, South African National Academy of Intelligence, National Communications Centre and the Electronic Communications Security.