I Spy... a man born to be in intelligence
Thicker Than Water: The Shaik brothers: Shamin (Chippy), Schabir, Yunis and Moe
Picture: Richard Shorey
Late in August, Moe Shaik's wife, Erin Tansey, sent out invitations to his 50th birthday party, to be held on September 26.
They were sweet: "Friendships are one of the few things that improve with age. The family and friends of Moe Shaik invite you to celebrate his 50th birthday and a lifetime of good friendship .
"Moe can now put away his boxing gloves. Moe was 'In the jungle, the mighty jungle, where the lions sleep' for much too long. He can now look forward to a calm, peaceful and tranquil life with his wife and kiddos and continue to build a better life for all."
While Tansey was issuing invites, there was a media frenzy of speculation that her husband was about to be appointed head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) or director-general of intelligence. Denials, Shaik's included, flew thick and fast.
On October 2, six days after the party, minister of state security Siyabonga Cwele ended the speculation with something of a bombshell: Shaik would head the South African Secret Service, the intelligence ministry's external wing. Contrary to Mrs Shaik's wishes the nail on the back of the garage door for those gloves would have to wait.
Two of Shaik's former ANC intelligence comrades, Lizo Gibson Njenje and Mzuvukile Jeff Maqetuka, were appointed with him. Njenje was to head the NIA, the ministry's internal arm. He and Shaik would report to Maqetuka, a former NIA deputy director-general and current ambassador to Algeria, who would now be director-general of the restructured State Security Agency.
There's something strangely fitting about the secrecy and intrigue in the lead up to Shaik's appointment: almost his entire political life has played out this way.
Rajeshwar "Fishy" Maharaj, Shaik's friend from childhood and a fellow ANC underground operative, recalls Shaik's first foray into the murky world of intelligence work while still a student at the then University of Durban-Westville.
"We were involved in protest theatre. Sam Marais, who danced with a New York dance company, joined us. I assumed that things were fine, that if people joined they were doing so wholeheartedly," says Maharaj.
"Somehow, Moe immediately realised something was wrong and picked up that he might be an informer. I thought this was inconceivable. We discussed this and he and other comrades like Jayendra Naidoo and Valli Moosa asked me to bring Sam. They confronted him and he broke down and confessed."
Marais was being blackmailed over his homosexuality by apartheid agents who wanted him to spy for them. He was advised to stay out of politics.
"From the beginning it was clear that Moe had this natural ability for the intelligence factor. He had this organic ability to look at a situation from every angle, to analyse what was happening, to take the appropriate action," Maharaj says.
Shaik's political development started at an early age. His father, Lambie Rassool, was a trade unionist and sports and community activist. His cousin, Dr Hoosen Haffejee, was murdered by the Security Branch while Shaik was still at school; he himself was first arrested when he and his father were among those picked up at a Frelimo rally in Durban in 1974.
Maharaj recalls "a highly intelligent, but in many ways ordinary boy".
"Moe was like any other inquisitive boy. We were football-crazy. We read, we talked, we watched movies. We did naughty things. We smoked. We went to parties and did everything that normal adolescents do."
Student politics led Shaik into community and political activism. He and some of his five brothers became involved in the resurrection of the Natal Indian Congress and the campaign against joining the House of Delegates in the late 1970s.
By 1980, Shaik and his brother Yunis had gone to Swaziland and set up their first contacts with the ANC.
In 1984, Shaik and his unit were called to Swaziland and told to create infrastructure to "support and sustain" ANC underground leader Ismail Ebrahim, who was meeting internal leaders ahead of the movement's 1985 Kabwe Conference. The instruction came from Jacob Zuma, then leader of the ANC's southern command, which covered then KwaZulu and Natal.
Says Yunis: "Along the line the Security Branch became aware of Ibi's presence. We had been instructed to protect him at all costs, even if it meant we had to go into detention. Through an elaborate process Moe managed to get Ibi out. He couldn't get himself out and was captured."
Shaik, Yunis, their father, cousin Bunny Subedar and unit member Sirish Soni were held in solitary confinement for almost a year. They were tortured and Rassool had a stroke. Shaik's mother, Kay, died from a heart attack while they were in detention.
Ironically, it was their horrific treatment that led to Shaik's arguably greatest coup: turning Security Branch officers to work for the ANC.
A policeman gave Shaik access to Security Branch files, allowing him to trace informers and identify threats to ANC cells and operations.
Shaik copied the files and got them to London where they were handed over to Zuma. Shaik was instructed to continue with the operation, which became known as "Project Bible", developing the counter-intelligence network.
Bible not only undermined Security Branch operations against the ANC but gave Shaik massive currency within the ANC and its above-ground allies like the United Democratic Front and Natal Indian Congress, earning him the friends and enemies he has within the ANC today.
Shaik's unit became involved in Operation Vula, aimed at preparing for the return of ANC leaders to South Africa. The operation was blown in 1990 and the Security Branch became aware that it had been infiltrated. Shaik went underground again, surfacing only when negotiators secured "amnesty" for the Vula team.
He was deployed as part of the ANC team during the Codesa negotiations in the early 1990s.
Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils says Shaik was "very key" during this period.
"He showed himself to be extremely skilful. Moe went through that period of debate and interaction through the negotiations, helping to draft the principles for security legislation and the interim constitution. He was at the rockface of fashioning the legislation for the security sector and in the amalgamation process in 1994," he says.
Kasrils, Shaik's former senior in intelligence, is now his political foe. Pre- and post-Polokwane, Kasrils was in the Thabo Mbeki camp.
By all accounts, the Hefer commission was the greatest blot on Shaik's career. His attempt to out then national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka as an apartheid agent went horribly wrong. Ngcuka was exonerated and Judge Joos Hefer criticised Shaik for "raking up old scores" to defend Zuma.
During his brother Schabir's marathon corruption trial, Shaik took over his Nkobi group of companies - which was later implicated in the controversial arms deal - and spent virtually every day at the court, cutting a sinister but engaging figure with his trademark pipe and conspiracy theories.
He was a key player, behind the scenes, in the nascent campaign to keep Zuma afloat when he was being ostracised by the ANC mainstream, a role that continued after Zuma's sacking as deputy president in June 2005.
As the Zuma campaign gained momentum and more ANC leaders got on board, Shaik felt increasingly marginalised. By the time the party's landmark Polokwane conference took place in December 2007, he was reduced to attending as a "service provider", watching from the sidelines and creating controversy by attending with alleged gangster Cyril Beeka.
Yunis says his brother was "probably" informed of his latest appointment "the night before or so". He "didn't want to get involved in intelligence again, but wanted to go on with life as a private citizen".
A close political associate paints a very different picture.
"Moe has been sitting and waiting for the call. He has a sense of being owed by the ANC *1 and was expecting a cabinet position or at least the director-general of intelligence position," the associate says.
He points to Shaik's abrasive nature, his taste for the big stage and his out-of-school pronouncements on whom Zuma would appoint to his cabinet as reasons, coupled with his premature disclosure that a deal was being struck to quash Zuma's prosecution.
"He has a weird need to let people know that he is on an inside track and is on top of things. He seems to have to maintain this public image that he is in the know, that he is ahead of the pack, that he is needed."
Cwele has expressed full support for Shaik, Njenje and Maqetuka, telling the Sunday Times that all three have signed performance contracts that will be "closely monitored".
"I expect them to deliver," he says.
Shaik, who will focus on external threats to South Africa from foreign intelligence agencies, international terrorism, drug and gun runners, and instability in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent, has the "understanding, experience and vision" to perform the job he has been given.
Sunny Singh, a former ANC and police intelligence officer, worked with Shaik during the Codesa period. "During that time he acquitted himself very, very well," he says.
"He did a very good job. He was central to the process of amalgamation of intelligence agencies from the apartheid system and the liberation movement, to the negotiations process," says Singh.
"He comes with vast experience in foreign intelligence and it's not a total surprise that he has been appointed. I thought he would be more likely to have been appointed as NIA head," says Singh.
But he adds a cautionary note: "Our intelligence community is now in disarray and to protect and defend his democracy, no intelligence officer can get involved in partisan politics. That is what we will have to wait and see."
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa believes the appointment is a good one, arguing that Zuma had to appoint someone he trusted to the post, as "any president would have done."
Shaik, Holomisa says, has the skills needed.
"I know all three and they have a strong background in the intelligence field. They were not in the good books of Mbeki and have found a home under Zuma. That's the reality.
"They can still fail if they come there with an agenda to purge the so-called Mbeki-ites," says Holomisa.
"If the presidency doesn't have a relationship with the heads of intelligence, they won't work well together. Mr Zuma has confidence in them and as head of state you have to be satisfied with your intelligence heads.
"All governments across the board do that. Surely Zuma and his team were aware that Shaik's name would cause controversy; it's going to be here for a while, but what we need to do is to strengthen the oversight, with an oversight structure headed by a judge, not one of them," Holomisa says.
Businessman Richard Young, a long-standing critic who took on the Shaik brothers over Schabir's benefiting from the arms deal, believes Shaik's appointment is "completely politically inappropriate".
"Surely there must be career agents who are more suitably qualified for this job? What qualifications does the appointee really have for this very specialised and high office?"
Shaik, former head of optometry at the University of Durban-Westville, is an optometrist.
He underwent intelligence training in the then East Germany while running the ANC's Project Bible.
Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos also questions the appointment, arguing that in the post-apartheid period Shaik has "acted in a manner that has demonstrated a lack of wisdom, independence and integrity, all traits required for a spy chief".
"Shaik was a main actor in attempts to discredit Ngcuka in order to try to derail the state's case against Mr Zuma.
"It is clear that he peddled these rumours because of his undying, uncritical and even blind loyalty to one man," he says.
Undoubtedly, by virtue of his often controversial history and the portfolio he occupies, Moe Shaik will be closely watched *2.
With acknowledgements to Paddy Harper and Sunday Times.