Why the ANC wants spooks to vet churches, security companies and NGOs

There’s alarm about a new intelligence bill that targets religious institutions, private security companies and non-governmental organisations for vetting in a way that could possibly be unconstitutional. If the bill became law, those wishing to establish and operate a new non-governmental or religious organisation, or establish a private security company, would have to undergo a vetting investigation in order to determine their security competence for clearance. Such vetting would give intelligence officers access to one’s most sensitive personal information. BizNews finds out more from a member of the 2018 High-Level Presidential Review Panel (HLRP) that investigated the State Security Agency (SSA).  He is Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, Professor of International & Diplomacy Studies at Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs at the University of South Africa. (UNISA). – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions 
  • 00:43 – Professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk on the alarming news of the new intelligence bill
  • 06:46 – On the President’s decision to reintroduce the national security council
  • 13:41 – On why security companies are being targeted
  • 15:30 – Why the government is threatened by the private sector
  • 18:00 – The probability of being vetted and controlled politically
  • 21:11 – Why the upcoming BRICS summit is so important for SA
  • 27:23 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

There’s alarm about a new intelligence bill that targets religious institutions, private security companies and non-governmental organisations for vetting in a way that could possibly be unconstitutional.

If the bill became law those wishing to establish and operate a new non-governmental or religious organisation, or establish a private security company, would have to undergo a vetting investigation in order to determine their security competence for clearance. Such vetting would give intelligence officers access to one’s most sensitive personal information.

BizNews finds out more from a member of the 2018 High-Level Presidential Review Panel (HLRP) that investigated the State Security Agency (SSA).  He is Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, Professor of International & Diplomacy Studies at Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs at the University of South Africa. (UNISA).

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He explains the thinking behind the draft bill – the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill  (GLAB) of 2023 – which the State Security Agency (SSA) drew up, and which Cabinet approved. 

“It’s in the process of becoming a policy. So this bill is not yet legislation. It’s a draft piece of legislation. So it goes to Parliament.”

“So the drafters of this bill need to know that whatever they propose in, we call it GLAB…will be put to the test, constitutionally, politically, but also practically.” 

As to why churches are amongst those deemed in need of security checks, Professor Van Nieuwkerk says: “We have some charismatic churches and some pastors who live a good life, who collect money from poor people, who then run away and go to another country where they spend the money and they come back for more. This is not in the interest of our people, this kind of behaviour.”

However, the professor doesn’t think that this is necessarily an issue that should be dealt with by the intelligence services. “This needs to be addressed in some way. I would argue that SAPS, our police and Crime Intelligence, needs to take care of this particular problem.”

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As for the question of NGOs, Professor van Nieuwkerk says: “…there are many voices in the ruling party that say our democracy is being influenced or penetrated or shaped or reshaped or co-determined by outsiders. It’s an old argument, it’s a political debate.”

He believes “there must be some form of control, but doesn’t think security vetting is the answer. “I mean, for me, a robust democracy must be able to listen to dissenting voices. And if there’s an NGO that comes up with strange ideas, let’s ask them where these ideas come from.”

As to why security companies are seen as a threat to state security, Professor van Niuewkerk says: “Poor leadership, lack of resources and skilled personnel are all contributing to a poor state of defence. In comes the private sector with people who have these things that I’ve mentioned. They have leadership resources, trained personnel, hard and software and say: ‘we can protect you for a fee’. And they are now cumulatively bigger…So there’s some in the government who think that they are no longer in control of security.

“…there’s a fear amongst some, not all in government, that the private security sector has become too powerful. And when the chips are down and there’s a threat to democracy, they might behave in a naughty manner. And that the security sector, the traditional sector, would be unable to control what is coming. 

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“This is the fear that they have, and they are trying for many years now to put some kind of legislation in place… We need a system of rules and regulations, standards, certification, and so on.. And I think everybody would agree, including the private security sector…We want regulation in place, but we don’t want political control.”

Professor van Nieuwkerk predicts that “a lot of what the bill is trying to do will go through the way I explained it earlier, particularly legislation that will prevent any future abuse of the intelligence services, politicisation”.

However, he doesn’t see the vetting of security companies, churches, and NGOs making it into law. “And the sooner those clauses are removed from the bill, the better for the bill itself. And I think that’s going to happen.”

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