Siyabonga Cwele at war with top officials

11 September 2011 - 12:03 By CAIPHUS KGOSANA and SIBUSISO NGALWA
Siyabonga Cwele. File photo.
Siyabonga Cwele. File photo.

Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele is at war with two of his top officials in what looks like the beginning of a major shake-up of the intelligence hierarchy.

Cwele is attempting to push out National Intelligence Agency head Gibson Njenje and his Secret Service counterpart, Mo Shaik, but the two are refusing to leave without a fight.

On Friday, Cwele's office issued a statement announcing Njenje's resignation, saying the NIA boss was leaving to "pursue other interests".

"The minister has accepted the resignation and thanked Njenje for his services and contribution to the national project of securing the country, its people and the constitutional order," it said.

But a defiant Njenje yesterday denied that he had resigned.

"I am shocked to hear from you that I have resigned. I know nothing about that. I have not resigned. I have not had any discussion with the minister with regards to my resignation. There are issues we are talking about and he has promised to come back to me with a response," he said.

"There are some issues, but not to the extent that I have left my job. That's a total misrepresentation."

However, Cwele's spokes-man, Brian Dube, said Njenje had submitted his resignation letter.

"When you resign, you resign in writing, and the resignation must be accepted. Yes, we have [the resignation letter]," he said.

But Njenje retorted: "Tell him to share the letter with you. I have not resigned."

Dube refused to comment further.

Insiders in the intelligence community say tensions between Cwele and Njenje have been simmering for months. While some attribute the breakdown in relations to personality clashes, others say Njenje's close ties to ANC heavyweight Tony Yengeni and his perceived closeness to the ANC Youth League caused mistrust.

The Sunday Times has been told that there is unhappiness in the government about the youth league's alleged unfettered access to state security information, and fingers are being pointed at the NIA.

On Friday, youth league spokesman Floyd Shivambu issued a statement saying individuals who have been identified as NIA agents are interrogating members of his organisation in a number of provinces about the protest outside ANC headquarters.

"We understand that these people visit during the early hours of the morning to interrogate leaders and members about supporters of the ANC who gathered to support the charged (ANCYL) leadership in Johannesburg over the past two weeks," he said.

It is believed Njenje was offered an ambassadorial posting in return for his departure from the intelligence agency, but he declined.

"Look, he is willing to go, but not under those conditions. He has a three-year contract and wants to know how the two of them will walk away from that contract," said an intelligence official close to Njenje.

Njenje is no stranger to controversy. A previous NIA head of operations, he was suspended, along with former NIA boss Billy Masetlha, in 2005 after an unauthorised and botched surveillance operation on businessman and former ANC NEC member Saki Macozoma's house.

Insiders say Cwele also wants Shaik out and accuses him of insubordination.

A source close to Shaik confirmed that there was bad blood between him and the minister and that he was under pressure to leave.

A number of meetings will be held this week at which Shaik's fate could be decided.