It is unclear what the role of Billy Masetlha was in the African National Congress (ANC) delegation that visited Botswana two weeks ago and met with the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) but given his history and what was reportedly discussed, it is easy to make one really good guess.
As the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency under President Thabo Mbeki, Masetlha was fired after he was found to have acted unethically. Masetlha was accused of having overseen an operation that falsified e-mail messages that associated then Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and implicate senior government and ANC officials in a plot to sideline and incriminate then former deputy president Jacob Zuma. He was also said to have bugged and intercepted individuals’ communications for political and personal gain as well as fomenting divisions in the intelligence and security agencies.
Mbeki got rid of Masetlha and in a newspaper interview in which he was described as “visibly angry”, the former South African was quoted as saying: “”The president as head of state and head of government is the principal client of civilian intelligence. Now you can imagine what would happen if the president is fed false information. I am saying it is very dangerous and you cannot allow any compromise about quality of intelligence and its truthfulness. You can’t afford a situation where people manufacture intelligence.”
Masetlha claimed that he had been set up and launched a court action to clear his name. In those papers, he called Mbeki a liar but the Constitutional Court ÔÇô the highest in the land ÔÇô confirmed his dismissal. This ruling raises serious questions about Masetlha’s credibility on intelligence matters. A fortnight ago, an ANC delegation that was led by the party’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, visited Gaborone and met BDP leaders, including President Ian Khama. Press photos taken at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport show Masetlha lugging a luggage bag, his pair of spectacles held in place on his head. He is standing next to Mantashe and behind him is the BDP’s deputy treasurer, Jagdish Shah.
Information that has been leaked to the press is to the effect that the visitors were bearing very bad news ÔÇô that a “third force” in the form of United States and British intelligence services – is hellbent on effecting “regime change” in both Botswana and South Africa. As the most experienced intelligence person in that delegation, Masetlha would doubtless have played a key role in selling this intelligence to the BDP leadership.
This intelligence is said to have been extracted from a report that, among others, has been publicly discredited by South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa. It is this same report that South African president, Jacob Zuma, used to fire Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Finance. At a press conference that he called on his last day as minister, Gordhan displayed to the media a page from that report. Such display of what is supposed to be sensitive information gave a clear indication of what the former thought of the report.
A former student leader who co-founded the Congress of South African Students and the Azanian Students’ Organisation, Masetlha would visit Botswana during the liberation struggle years. In an interview with South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, he said that his first meeting with Mbeki was in Botswana in 1979. During South Africa’s political transition (precisely between 1992 and 1994), Masetlha was a member of the ANC’s Department of Intelligence Services as well as the security negotiating team.