Ex-spy fights Mbeki

Masetlha, who has been suspended since November last year, served court papers on the President last Tuesday, informing him of his intention to contest his sacking two weeks ago. Mbeki fired Masetlha two weeks ago on March 22, on the grounds that the relationship of trust between the two had “irreparably broken down”. However observers believe the President’s action was largely due to the former spy boss’s alleged involvement in a series of hoax e-mails that sought to implicate influential figures of the African National Congress (ANC) in a plot against former deputy president Jacob Zuma. The court will now decide whether President Mbeki’s action was correct or not. Masetlha’s lawyer, Imraan Haffagee, said last week that Masetlha had not been fired, but rather that President Mbeki had amended his terms of office. Under the terms of office, Masetlha’s contract as NIA head would have expired in 2007. But following a cabinet meeting on March 22, presidential spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe told a press conference that the termination of Masetlha’s contract was unrelated to the investigation surrounding the hoax emails, but was “a coincidence in timing”. Earlier media reports had claimed that the investigation on the fabricated emails, conducted by the Inspector General (IG) of Intelligence Services, Zolile Ngcakani, pointed directly to Masetlha as the originator of the emails, which were supposedly sent between National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli and director general in the presidency Frank Chikane. A report published by the IG on the day after Masetlha’s sacking also implicated him in the hoax email saga. Revelations about the emails at the time threatened to fuel simmering internal conflict within the ANC. They also brought the credibility of the NIA, its intelligence capabilities and efficiency severely into question. In the meantime, President Mbeki has gone on to appoint Manala Manzini as the new substantive NIA director general, a move that was highly unexpected in light of Masetlha’s court action. Manzini has been acting director general of the NIA since Masetlha’s suspension last year, and was part of the group of security, intelligence and defense chiefs who issued a statement backing the findings of the IG on the email saga last weekend. Netshitenzhe said the president’s decision to appoint Manzini in the midst of court proceedings was not a mockery of the legal process. He justified the action on the grounds that it was the president’s constitutional and legislative prerogative to appoint the head of intelligence services. However, while declining to comment on the appointment of Manzini to the NIA post, Masetlha’s lawyer told a local weekly he was “surprised” at the president’s move in light of his client’s court action. The former NIA boss faces arrest in the hoax email saga, following recent comments by IG Ngcakani that arrest would follow “soon” in the case.

April 2006
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