Ramaphosa needs to act fast on NSC failures
The most important role of any self-respecting government is to protect its citizens from national security threats. This means creating a strong defence system against internal and external threats.
This arduous task needs people who are focused, capable and dedicated to their jobs. It then follows that national security needs to be co-ordinated at the highest levels of the state.
One such structure that enables a commander-in-chief of a country to get a handle of pertinent security measures is the National Security Council (NSC).
President Cyril Ramaphosa re-established the NSC last year following recommendations by the high-level review panel into the State Security Agency.
The NSC, which last operated during former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration, was approved by the cabinet in December last year.
The NSC is chaired by the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed and security forces.
The members of the council are Deputy President David Mabuza, State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-nqakula, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Police Minister Bheki Cele, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-zuma.
Very few South Africans will reflect on the civil unrest of the past week and give a nod of approval for the work of the NSC.
Never has the weakness in our nation’s security being exposed in the manner it was for the world to see. The country has been subjected to mediocrity and helplessness as some ministers in the NSC characterised the unrest differently, giving a sense that the centre in the NSC is not holding. We should worry when a key state structure is in sixes and sevens and the commander-in-chief is contradicted publicly by his defence minister.
In any normal democracy, heads should roll when national security is compromised by ill-disciplined ministers tasked with protecting the country. But here, the power struggles of the ANC take precedence over other considerations.
Ramaphosa’s silence when his key security advisers speak with forked tongues on national security measures raises questions about his leadership.
The NSC is the president’s principal forum for national security and foreign policy decision-making with his senior national security advisers and cabinet officials. The posture taken by some NSC members weakens the capacity of the state to respond to threats.
Ramaphosa should see the NSC as an essential mechanism for the management of national security crises and deal with incompetence in that structure.
The NSC by its very nature ought to provide the president with the means of ensuring that policy decisions he has to make for national security are carefully considered from the points of view of all relevant officials in the executive branch.
But the scenes we saw last week and that NSC members do not read from the same script paint a frightening picture of the state of South Africa’s security. It is time to show leadership, Mr President, or consider handing over the reins.