Feature

South Africa: A spymaster doesn’t spy on his wife

He is, “at worst, a broken husband and imprudent lover—not unlike many of us,” said Eusebius McKaiser in The Mail & Guardian.

Eusebius McKaiserThe Mail & Guardian

South Africans should give our scandal-beset intelligence minister a break, said Eusebius McKaiser. Opposition parties and newspapers have been calling on State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele to resign after his wife was convicted of recruiting drug mules for an international cocaine syndicate. Some critics assume the minister must have known of his wife’s activities—although there’s not a shred of evidence that he did. Others say his not knowing is just as bad. How can he possibly manage to keep us all safe, their logic goes, when “he did not manage to smell a criminal who was in bed with him”?

Such an argument misses the vast difference between the role of intelligence chief and the role of husband; the first requires suspicion, the second, trust. If Cwele’s wife had been a foreign spy, then that would have reflected badly on him, but it isn’t the job of the state security minister to make drug busts. If his only sin is that his spouse is guilty of drug dealing, then Cwele can’t be assumed to be an incompetent intelligence chief. He is, “at worst, a broken husband and imprudent lover—not unlike many of us.”

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