Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

The conspiracy, it turns out, was chillingly real. For years, the whispers suggested former president Jacob Zuma had turned SA’s intelligence apparatus into a tool for factional gain and personal protection. This was devastatingly confirmed last weekend when the government released a "high-level review panel" report on the machinations of the intelligence services, housed under the State Security Agency (SSA).

Though the redacted report doesn’t name Zuma directly, it speaks of his position, which leaves no doubt as to who it means.

It’s a sobering thought that the panel delivered its conclusion — that SA’s spies were repurposed into being pawns of the president — just weeks before the country celebrates its quarter-century as a democracy. It’s even more sobering to read how SA’s fourth democratically elected president changed the rules to make intelligence operatives swear allegiance not just to SA and the constitution, but also to him directly.

One small silver lining is that Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, chose to release the whole report — which was perhaps unexpected, given the cloak-and-dagger way in which the intelligence services have typically been treated.

Ramaphosa has now decided, on the recommendation of the panel, to once again split the SSA into two arms — for domestic and foreign intelligence — while the National Security Council will be resurrected.

At its heart, the report seeks to answer the succinct question: "What the hell happened?" One answer, of course, is that all the checks and balances failed spectacularly. And failed, it seems, by design of the former president.

There are plenty of people who should be in the dock besides Zuma over this. Not least of them is Arthur Fraser, the former director-general of state security — a staunch Zuma ally who is now national commissioner of correctional services. Next to them should be former state security minister David Mahlobo and his predecessor Siyabonga Cwele, who is now the minister of home affairs.

In any new dawn, Fraser, Mahlobo and Cwele should not hold public office after this report.

Of course, many would say the revelations of political control of the SSA by Zuma and his lackeys are nothing new. That’s true, but this is still important as it is the first formal confirmation.

For example, it turns out that Zuma even used the SSA to create a new trade union, the Workers Association Union, ostensibly to weaken the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union on the platinum belt. Equally damning, agents were used to "impede" Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC presidency.

So where was the oversight? For a start, the office of the inspector-general of intelligence, which acts as watchdog for the SSA, had its hands tied. But parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) also just "lost control" of its oversight role, says the report. The JSCI had only one job, and failed: it should hang its head in shame.

Zuma’s response to the report this week was a muddled and poor attempt at deflection. "I have never been asked any questions by this committee," he said. Rather than address the substance of the claims he threatened his accusers, saying the report was written by "apartheid spies" and he "never sold out to the security branch".

Which, of course, isn’t what he is accused of doing. Which suggests Zuma has no real answer. How long before he has to tell this to a court?

After all, one has to ask, if it smells like treason, looks like treason and tastes like treason, should this not be dealt with like treason?