Billy Masetlha Biography
Billy Masetlha, born on 21 November 1954 in Alexandra, Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng), was a prominent figure in South African politics, serving as the head of the South African National Intelligence Agency and a Presidential Advisor. However, his career was marred by controversy, particularly his dismissal by President Thabo Mbeki in 2006. In this blog post, we’ll delve deeper into his life and legacy, exploring his early years, political activism, and career in intelligence.
Early Life and Political Activism
Masetlha was a founder member of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), an organization that played a critical role in the anti-apartheid struggle. He participated in the formation of the Azanian Student’s Organisation (AZASO) in 1979, which sought to advance the rights and interests of black students. Prior to this, he was a member of the Soweto Student’s Representative Council in 1976, which played a key role in the Soweto Uprising.
Masetlha’s political activism led to his arrest in the 1970s for furthering the aims of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1976, he joined uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC. He went into exile to Zambia in 1979 and joined the external mission of the ANC, specializing in youth and student organizations. He was instrumental in the formation of the Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee (JODAC).
Career in Intelligence
Masetlha’s career in intelligence began when he was appointed as the Director-General of the South African National Intelligence Agency, a position he held until 2006 when he was fired by President Thabo Mbeki. Masetlha was blamed for authorizing the unlawful surveillance of ANC executive member Saki Macozoma under the pretext that he was involved with foreign intelligence. He was also accused of being involved in the fabrication of emails that purported to implicate senior government and ANC officials in a plot to sideline and incriminate embattled former Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
Masetlha was also accused of being highly involved in party political squabbles by colluding with politicians in the divisive succession battle that, at the time, was polarizing the ruling party between Mbeki and Zuma camps. Furthermore, he was accused of acting unlawfully in bugging and intercepting individuals’ communications for the same purpose, which could have contributed to the fabrication of the emails. Masetlha took the matter to court and in court papers, called Mbeki a liar in return but lost that battle when his dismissal was confirmed by the Constitutional Court.
In 2007, Masetlha was acquitted in the Hatfield Community Court Magistrate of charges of contravening the Intelligence Service Oversight Act for allegedly withholding information from Inspector General of Intelligence Zolile Ngcakani.
Despite the controversies that surrounded his career in intelligence, Masetlha remained a prominent figure in South African politics. He was elected as a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) at its 53rd National Conference in Mangaung, Bloemfontein, Free State Province, in December 2012. In 2011, he became the first senior ANC member to openly say that an alleged plot to oust Zuma as ANC president in 2012 was real.
Billy Masetlha’s life was one marked by political activism and a career in intelligence that was marked by controversy. He was a pivotal figure in the anti-apartheid struggle and played a key role in the formation of youth and student organizations