Cape Town – A top government spy with a dubious past and close ties to President Jacob Zuma has allegedly been nominated to become South Africa’s new ambassador to Japan.
News24 and Rapport have reliably learnt that Thulani Dhlomo (45), the State Security Agency’s (SSA) former head of special operations and a former head of counter intelligence at the SSA’s domestic intelligence branch, has been nominated by Zuma to become ambassador to Japan after he was allegedly suspended from the SSA last year.
Japan is one of South Africa’s largest trading partners and the ambassadorship in this Asian country is one of the most sought after and best paid jobs in South Africa’s diplomatic structures.
According to five independent sources within intelligence circles, Dhlomo was suspended last year over an alleged transgression apparently related to trips he had taken abroad. However, soon after his alleged suspension, Dhlomo apparently returned to his position at the SSA.
Dhlomo, who uses several diplomatic passports for his overseas travels, also goes by the name Silence Dlomo, according to border control records obtained by News24 and Rapport.
Sandy Kalyan, the DA’s deputy spokesperson on international relations, says her party has “unofficially” heard of Dhlomo’s pending appointment as ambassador to Japan. Kalyan says the DA intends to ask Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, minister of international relations and cooperation (Dirco), what criteria was used in the alleged decision to nominate Dhlomo for this important position.
“Only reports to Zuma”
Dhlomo’s appointment as head of the SSA’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) in 2012 was shrouded in controversy after it came to light that he had been involved in alleged tender corruption in KwaZulu-Natal. Before his appointment at the SSA, Dhlomo was the head of security at the province’s department of social development. It was alleged that Dhlomo had received a kickback of R1 million related to tenders worth R45 million. Dhlomo resigned from the department after an investigation ordered by then social development MEC Meshack Radebe found that he had interfered in tender procedures at the department.
After his appointment at the SSA in 2012, City Press reported that Dhlomo had upset several of his colleagues at the SSA after he allegedly stated that he “only reported to Zuma.”
In 2016, Rapport and City Press reported that Dhlomo had apparently abused his position as SOU head by ordering covert operations that appeared to have personally benefited Zuma. One such operation entailed ordering a former apartheid-era spy to travel to Europe in order to source documents that allegedly implicated Zuma in corruption related to the arms deal.
Some of these documents were later controversially barred from being entered as evidence during the Seriti commission of inquiry into the arms deal.
Travel records obtained by News24 and Rapport show that Dhlomo has travelled abroad at least once a month since his appointment at the SSA in 2012. His frequent overseas trips are seemingly at odds with his former position as head of counter intelligence at the spy agency’s domestic intelligence branch.
In January and February this year alone Dhlomo crossed the country’s borders at least ten times, a further 14 times in 2016, and 12 times in 2015, according to the travel records.
Dhlomo was appointed as deputy director of domestic counter intelligence in 2014. According to Kalyan and David Maynier, the DA’s erstwhile spokesperson on intelligence, it is highly irregular for someone in his position at the SSA’s domestic branch to travel abroad as frequently as Dhlomo did.
Dhlomo could not be reached for comment. His wife, Oarabile, said her husband was currently abroad.
“Oh, that,” Oarabile said when she was asked about Dhlomo’s alleged appointment as ambassador to Japan. She said she did not want to comment on the development.
Clayson Monyela, Dirco’s spokesperson, did not confirm or deny the alleged nomination.
“There is no diplomatic tradition in any country of discussing names nor reasons associated with nominees for diplomatic postings. Nominees are only considered representatives of their country following the completion of diplomatic training, securing security clearances and after presenting credentials to the receiving country.
Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma’s spokesperson, did not respond to queries over whether Zuma had nominated Dhlomo for the position.
The SSA chose not to comment on Dhlomo’s alleged suspension and his trips abroad.
“Please note [the] SSA will not be commenting,” said Brian Dube, the spy agency’s spokesperson.
News24 and Rapport has reliably learnt that Dhlomo will soon start his diplomatic training at Dirco. Beryl Sisulu, human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s adopted sister, was ambassador to Japan for less than a year. She will apparently be moved to Australia, where she will become the South African high commissioner (as an ambassador in Commonwealth countries is referred to).
S’bu Ndebele, former minister of transport and former high commissioner to Australia, resigned from the latter position after he was charged with corruption over an alleged bribe of R10 million he received when he was transport minister. Ndebele was arrested in 2015 over the charges. City Press reported in March that Ndebele complained to Zuma about political interference with the charges against him and that the charges might be dropped.
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