The State Security Agency (SSA) is closely monitoring the rising levels of discontent among working class South Africans over jobs occupied by foreign nationals who do not require scarce skills, and which is likely to intensify as the economy continues to shed jobs due to the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Major cities in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape have been marked as potential hotspots, particularly the businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector.
Recent protests over tough economic conditions in the taxi and trucking industries were also a potential flashpoint as “issues of community dissatisfaction are not isolated but interlinked,” SSA minister Ayanda Dlodlo said in an interview on Friday.
Job shedding has become a serious problem, not only for South Africa but for the world in general
SSA minister Ayanda Dlodlo
Large gatherings could also increase the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus and the government was “trying to find ways in which to address issues before they even get to that stage,” said Dlodlo.
She said the agency had picked up that as the economy started to open up at lockdown level 3, “there were murmurs about the employment of foreign nationals in critical areas where it is not a scarce skill”.
“People are becoming restless about it. And in this period people are losing jobs. So, whatever job that is available that does not require the type of skills that are scarce, South Africans expect that we will ensure that they are the ones who are given opportunities for employment.”
She added: “Job shedding has become a serious problem, not only for South Africa but for the world in general.”
She said a deep conversation was due between South Africa and its neighbours in the SADC to figure out how the countries could assist each other to ensure the levels of dissatisfaction were kept at a point at which they could be contained.
“I think that all of these countries need to take responsibility, so that we all help one another. I don’t want to see foreign nationals being attacked by South Africans and I also don’t want to see South Africans being attacked by foreign nationals,” she said, adding that “in the last skirmishes we saw, more South Africans were killed as compared with foreign nationals.
“I would just like for us to be very clear that it is not only South Africans who attack foreign nationals. Resources are scarce for everybody. Jobs are scarce and I think let’s give preference to our own people. No country can develop its economy without bringing in people from outside. That is granted, but charity begins at home.”
Dlodlo said: “The important thing to also talk to, and our people need to understand, is that we do get this information when we do our intelligence. We gather the information and we give it to departments or the police to action.”
We have started to place people based on skills and competencies that are required by the organisation in the right positions. So we are matching skills and competencies to individuals and job clusters
Dlodlo said that efficiency in the agency was likely to shoot up as soon as key appointments were finalised, because “people will then be comfortable and start working more effectively than is currently the case.”
Dlodlo started her tenure in May last year when the agency was busy implementing the recommendations of a high-level panel review report, including the devolution of SSA into a foreign branch (the SA Secret Service) and a domestic branch (National Intelligence Agency).
The report dealt with issues of morale, longstanding acting positions, tradecraft and how agents conducted themselves.
“For me, the most important thing was to deal with the issue of morale because in any organisation, especially in a security organisation, where morale is low, rest assured you’ll never be able to get things right,” Dlodlo said.
She said the agency had halted acting posts and got the people who were seconded in various entities of government to come back to their substantive posts “so that you could thereafter be able to place people properly. There was a bit of resistance on that. In fact it was a lot of resistance, but things are now starting to shape up in a good way,” she said.
“We have started to place people based on skills and competencies that are required by the organisation in the right positions. So we are matching skills and competencies to individuals and job clusters.”
She said six deputy director generals (DDGs) who had been idling would be placed into new roles.
Dlodlo said the agency was also looking to improve its vetting system following an outcry in SOEs, provinces and the public sector.
“You have DGs and DDGs who do not have security clearances. You have members of boards that are critical for state infrastructure who do not have security clearances. They handle sensitive information and they work at national key points, but they do not have security clearances,” she said.
She said deputy minister Zizi Kodwa was tasked to “ramp up the vetting system and roll it out to the rest of the state”.
Dlodlo added that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic also showed that the government needed secure communications.
“We’re also looking at recruiting people for economic intelligence. We feel that it’s one of those areas that the government needs support on, in terms of policy formulation and decision-making, as well as monitoring the rest of the world with regard to our national interest from an economic perspective.”