Only the “streetwise” will survive the job of director-general in the State Security Agency (SSA), a former spook has warned ambassador Thembisile Majola, who was appointed to the position by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week.
The former official who served in the agency’s management ranks says: “You must also be incorruptible because there’s a lot of money floating around and the temptation will always be there.”
Majola is the seventh departmental head of the SSA since 2009, following Jeff Maqetuka (who served for two years), Dennis Dlomo (who acted for two years), ambassador Sonto Kudjoe (who served for three years), Arthur Fraser (who served for two years), Loyiso Jafta (who acted for three years) and Gab Msimanga (who acted for a year).
Majola’s former underground “comrade” in the ANC in Mozambique, Joe Ndhlela, describes her as “a very smart and intelligent person who understood what was necessary to execute the task at hand”. Another member of their unit was former SA Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane.
She didn’t have a good relationship with Radebe and [the others]. Her ambitions were always clear to see. She rated herself as better qualified for the job and she had educational qualifications to [prove it]
According to cynics, Ramaphosa may have blundered by appointing a person who has historical ties to Moyane, as, during the Zondo commission of inquiry, the latter was depicted as one of the architects of state capture. However, Ndhlela – who is also related to Moyane – said that he had last spoken to Majola many years ago, suggesting that members of the unit may no longer be keeping in touch.
In the department of energy, where Majola previously served as deputy minister, there have been mixed reactions to her appointment. The consensus among her critics and supporters alike is that she had the ambition to become the minister and felt overlooked as the department chopped and changed ministers during her stint between 2014 and 2018.
The official version from government was that she resigned in November 2018 “to attend to family matters”. The unofficial version was that she was no longer getting along with the then minister Jeff Radebe. He is a lawyer by profession and Majola holds a master’s degree in civil engineering, “so she felt she was better qualified for the job”.
Majola has also established herself internationally as a gender activist. While in government, she worked as a chief director and deputy director-general, both in the presidency, before becoming ambassador to Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Gambia and Guinea Bissau in 2006.
Majola didn’t get along with any of the ministers and she had this [idea] that she deserved to be appointed because of her engineering qualifications.
In 2009, she was appointed deputy coordinator of core business for the national intelligence coordinating committee, which highlights her expertise in the intelligence community. She worked for the Gauteng premier’s office in 2010 before joining the private sector in the engineering field.
Early in her career, she became involved in the ANC’s women’s movement and then in the underground structures, where she worked with the likes of former state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo, who is currently serving as the minister of public service and administration.
Another former energy department official said Majola had a problem not only with Radebe, but with all his predecessors, including David Mahlobo, Mamoloko Kubayi and Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
“She didn’t have a good relationship with Radebe and [the others]. Her ambitions were always clear to see. She rated herself as better qualified for the job and she had educational qualifications to [prove it],” said the official.
She understood the industry more than many of the ministers. All of them came and found her there and they left her there, so she’d built a network internally
The person said it was only “natural”, given Majola’s competence and background in consulting, that she would have expectations of becoming a minister.
“You could see that she left because she was unhappy. It also seemed as if Radebe was sidelining her and not giving her any meaningful role to play.”
A person still working in the department agreed that Majola “didn’t get along with any of the ministers and she had this [idea] that she deserved to be appointed because of her engineering qualifications”.
She would embark on her own initiatives, working closely with a Zimbabwean national in the department (whose name is known to City Press), added the person.
The official said:
They also worked together in a programme called Women in Energy. If you want to know a lot more about her, take a closer look at her relationship with this Zimbabwean woman.
The former spook said Majola was “a good person who has a lot of experience in executive management. She’s also very systematic and honest. I think she’ll survive the SSA. She’s hard and pushes people to deliver. She also knows the intelligence environment, given her background as an ambassador.
The person warned, however, that although the agency was male-dominated and women officials were often undermined, Majola was “not to be taken lightly”.
“Compared with Kudjoe, she’s a much better leader. She’s smart and I enjoyed working with her. She approaches people with respect, she doesn’t throw her power around and she’s strict, so people hated her because she didn’t want any malfeasance,” he continued.
“Understanding the priorities of the country is also important, especially our security and economic priorities. This country could also reclaim its influence on the continent and continue to play a role in intervening where there’s political instability. That’s the task the agency should take seriously.”