Faith Radebe: Spy-service watchdog who gave spooks free rein

15 April 2018 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

Faith Radebe, who has died in Pretoria at the age of 66, occupied one of the most crucial positions in South Africa for five of the most destructive years in its post-apartheid history.
Between 2010 and 2015 Radebe was the inspector-general of intelligence. Her job was to exercise civilian oversight of the intelligence services and ensure that they didn't act unconstitutionally and abuse their powers.
The Intelligence Services Oversight Act gave her the authority and power to conduct investigations into allegations of misconduct by the intelligence services, and full access to classified documents.
She could have gone to any building, opened any file or attached any computer, and it would have been a criminal offence to obstruct her.
However, she was criticised for failing to exercise these powers as strenuously as she might have.
Radebe's appointment as inspector-general of intelligence was controversial. As an advocate she had the right technical qualifications for the job. But it was felt that as a former employee of the National Intelligence Agency and State Security Agency, she was an insider who lacked the necessary independence and would find it hard to hold former comrades to account.
A little more than a year after being appointed, she referred the results of a Hawks investigation detailing shocking abuses in the police crime intelligence unit, headed by close Jacob Zuma ally Richard Mdluli, to the NPA for criminal prosecution. She backtracked after reportedly receiving a call from Zuma, then president, and having a meeting with then police minister Nathi Mthethwa.
The challenges she faced on becoming inspector-general of intelligence were formidable.
They were spelt out in a powerful 300-page report by the Matthews commission of inquiry appointed by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and chaired by former deputy minister of safety and security Joe Matthews after intelligence agencies were caught spying on senior ANC members.The report detailed the ways in which the intelligence services were failing to comply with the constitution and legislation. It also provided a blueprint on how to fix them, ensure compliance, strengthen the office of the inspector-general and address issues of independence.
Radebe failed to push for the structural reforms identified by the Matthews commission, which would have bolstered the office of the inspector-general of intelligence against official bullying and attacks on its independence.
Under her watch, political manipulation of the intelligence services undermined law and order and contributed to state capture.
Radebe was born in Soweto on February 24 1952. As a student she was actively involved in the struggle. Under threat of arrest she went into exile after the June 1976 Soweto uprising.
She joined the ANC's department of intelligence and became the commander of the women's section of Quibaxe Umkhonto we Sizwe security camp in Angola.
She qualified as an advocate at the University of Zimbabwe and worked as a prosecutor at the magistrate's court in Harare.
From 2006 to 2010 she was South Africa's high commissioner to the Caribbean islands. She played an important role in facilitating the security agreement between South Africa and the Caribbean community of countries for the ICC Cricket World Cup in Jamaica in 2007.
In 2015, after finishing her five-year term as inspector-general of intelligence, she was appointed ambassador to Sweden.
Radebe, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2017, is survived by her husband, Jabu, and three sons. - 1952-2018..

There’s never been a more important time to support independent media.

From World War 1 to present-day cosmopolitan South Africa and beyond, the Sunday Times has been a pillar in covering the stories that matter to you.

For just R80 you can become a premium member (digital access) and support a publication that has played an important political and social role in South Africa for over a century of Sundays. You can cancel anytime.

Already subscribed? Sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.