The War on Terror reaches South Africa in the guise of ‘fighting crime’

2014-10-24T10:35:45+00:00 October 24th, 2014|Uncategorized|
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Karen Jayes, South African author and journalist discusses the legality surrounding the recent legislation passed in South Africa authorising the use of drones. Unmanned Ariel Vehicles are often used for surveillance and the launching of missiles; it is a tool which has in the past been used to kill individuals such as British citizens Mohammed Sakr and Belal Berjawi – as part of the “War on Terror” – completely devoid of any due process.

Karen Jayes, South African author and journalist discusses the legality surrounding the recent legislation passed in South Africa authorising the use of drones. Unmanned Ariel Vehicles are often used for surveillance and the launching of missiles; it is a tool which has in the past been used to kill individuals such as British citizens Mohammed Sakr and Belal Berjawi – as part of the "War on Terror" – completely devoid of any due process. While the South African government claims it will be used to combat "crime" – even the use of drones as a surveillance tool can cause self censorship amongst protesters whilst effectively encouraging violence and mistrust between citizens and the state. 
 
 
The use of drones and elite police forces against protestors, are signs of a steady militarisation that threatens the gains made in South Africa since 1994.
 
It will soon become legal in South Africa to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or “drones”, as the country’s Civil Administration Authority (CAA) moves to finalise legislation governing their use by February next year. This, in response to leaked news that the City of Cape Town will test drones for what it insists are mundane purposes: aerial photography for the purpose of assessing damage after fire or flooding, or understanding the layout of an area for planning.  
 
The use of drones has so far been illegal in South Africa – despite the fact that unarmed drones have been used for aerial surveillance for some time, including by game farmers to combat rhino poaching
 
But the introduction of the new legislation in South Africa serves to make their presence official, at a time when strikes by armed drones in Africa have increased under the banner of the War on Terror.  In 2013, Mohammed Sakr was killed in a drone strike in Somalia after being stripped of his British citizenship two years previously. Lebanese-born Briton Belal Berjawi was also killed by a drone in Somalia in 2012. 
 
The use of drones for targeted killings and intelligence gathering is under-reported in the African regions, but a report by the Remote Control Project shows that UAVs both armed and unarmed are operated from French bases in the Sahel and Sahara regions, as well as from a US base in Djibouti.  
 
Although the City of Cape Town insists the drones are for mundane purposes, they are being touted as a practical and modern solution to prevent what their pundits tout as the country’s “high levels of crime”, particularly metal theft and gang-related crime. 
 
But the definition of “crime” is broad, and includes acts of civil disobedience such as land invasions, controversial sanitation protests, and strike action that have taken place among a majority population that still lacks basic sanitation and housing 20 years since Nelson Mandela’s release.
 
This is evidenced by the fact that some mining companies have also purchased pepper-spray firing drones for use on protesting mineworkers, insisting that protests that turn violent (as in the case of the Marikana massacre where police shot and killed 34 striking miners), fall under the definition of “crime”. This, even though reports suggest that police intimidation is often the reason behind protestor violence.  
 
Though this may seem like a logical response to what appears to be a volatile country, civil liberties groups are wary; drones used in this context threaten rights of privacy, association and protest.  
 
This process, they say, is reflective of the principle of drone use itself.
 
“There is a complete the lack of transparency regarding the use of drones which cannot be mentored on a day-to-day basis by governments to ensure that privacy rights are respected by the individual operating the drone,” says Feroze Boda, research director for CAGE Africa. “It is impossible to respect due process rights if drone usage is permitted.”

Most notable, however, is what Duncan refers to as the ‘one-way mirror’ effect, where “the state can see more and more into our lives, while we can see less and less into their functioning”.

 
Local government says that issues of privacy and due process should be addressed at national government, not at provincial level. “Common sense dictates that you use the best available technology to solve your problems,” said JP Smith, alderman for safety and security for the Western Cape government. “Anyone who fails to investigate these is doing society a disservice.”
 
But even though privacy and security are core issues in the debate around drone use, it’s unlikely they will be debated at the necessary levels. The CAA – the authority being charged with drawing up the laws around drones – is under ministerial direction, as opposed to being subject to the standard parliamentary processes that require the constitutionality and public participation that is necessary when issues of privacy and civil rights are at stake. 
 
The laws are also being drawn up over the end-of-year period, a notoriously slow period for political action and a time when there are few parliamentarians on the benches. 
 
“I don’t see how this sort of legislation will be debated in a meaningful and transparent way during this period,” said Duncan. 
 

Increased securitisation after 9/11

Increasing disparity been rich and poor in South Africa, coupled by the militarisation of police and the employment of elite police units at protests and against other acts of civil disobedience, are flaming a growing anger at the way democracy has been implemented, and at the democratic infrastructure itself.
 
“We’re seeing a political climate where there is a greater securitisation of the state, and a more militarised response to common problems,” says Jane Duncan, professor of journalism at the University of Johannesburg and author of ‘The Securocrats’. “Authorities need to realise that people don’t want to invade land. We need to deal with the underlying problems.”
 
“The post 9/11 environment and the global recession has made it more tempting for security minded members to adopt more authoritarian approaches to social problems,” she said. “Many of the instruments of the War on Terror in the UK and US are being globalised. But the kind of civil liberty enhancing measures that circumscribe the state’s ability to invade people’s rights, are not. We are getting the worst practice being imported without best practice being imported too.”
 
When surveillance was implemented across Britain, no research into the effect of surveillance on the psychology of citizens and society as a whole was presented during policy debates – even though there is ample research on the topic. Research dating as far back as the 1950s shows that mass surveillance of populations encourages mediocrity and conformity and discourages innovation, while it encourages violence and mistrust between citizens and the state. 
 
Particularly interesting is the effect when surveillance is perceived by citizens as targeting other people’s liberty vs when citizens realise that their liberty is being traded – in the latter case, there is an immediate and perceptible shift in anxiety, fear and anger towards the ruling entity.
 
(CC image courtesy of Coast Guard News on Flickr) 
 
Most notable, however, is what Duncan refers to as the ‘one-way mirror’ effect, where “the state can see more and more into our lives, while we can see less and less into their functioning”.
 
In terms of surveillance, questions around data retention – who is responsible for storing data, as well as how long it will be stored for, and who will have access to it, is key. In South Africa, the state has a poor record; recent reports of biometric information stored for social security grants falling into the hands of dubious parties who can use it to sell people products, attest to this. 
 
“Private security operators are in the business of making profit,” says Duncan. “They aren’t there for benevolent reasons.”
 
But Smith insists that should drones be deployed for surveillance of criminals, it would be done through standard procedure, namely the granting of a warrant – and thereafter storage time would be for the duration of prosecutorial processes, or “as long as requested”. Failing that, data would be deleted on a 30-day loop, as in the case of CCTV.
 
Crime aside, the effect of the threat of surveillance on behaviour and thought processes – especially of activists cannot be discounted. “Ongoing surveillance including the expectation of ongoing surveillance has a chilling effect on human behaviour. There’s a kind of self-censorship. It will stop people from going on protests, especially if those protests are against government policy,” says Duncan. 
 
“Drone use affects crucial issues of public privacy and safety, and threatens the constitutional right to freedom to protest, the freedom of association, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty by fair trial,” said CAGE Africa’s Boda.
 

A global private security industry

Although the Western Cape government – the sole remaining province in South Africa under the governance of the ANC’s chief opposition, the Democratic Alliance – insists drones will not be used against protestors, the purchase of pepper-spraying drones by mining companies in Gauteng province indicates that national policy under the ANC may be in fact be more lenient towards the use of armed drones than its Western Cape counterpart. 
 
Shahed Mohamed of Workers Vanguard International agrees. He says drone deployment against protestors is part of a highly privatised global military and governing model that has come about due to an increasingly volatile working class and the realisation by ruling elites that their armies are no longer made of unquestioning citizens ready to carry out orders that violate international law. 
 
“It’s a piece of metal,” he says. “It’s got no conscience.” 
 
In South Africa in particular, after the army itself came out in protest against the state in 2009, the state realised they could no longer depend on the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to combat civilian unrest. 
 
“The army is more human rights based than the state,” said Mohamed. “The army can’t be so easily manipulated. There’s a clause that says any soldier has the right to refuse an illegal order.” 
 
Enter the country’s special National Intervention Unit (NIU). The NIU is tasked with counter-terrorism and hostage negotiation. It is identical in function to several other similarly named units in Angola – where their Rapid Intervention Unit has reportedly assaulted and detained journalists – and now recently in Cameroon, where a similar unit is currently “battling Boko Haram”
 
The NIU in South Africa was deployed during the Marikana massacre, where 34 striking miners were shot dead by NIU police, some allegedly at point-blank range – an event that is part of an ongoing commission of enquiry. The shootings were the bloodiest moment in South African history since 1994, and were the subject of a chilling documentary by Rehad Desai, entitled ‘Miners Shot Down’.
 
“The army is more human rights based than the state,”…“The army can’t be so easily manipulated. There’s a clause that says any soldier has the right to refuse an illegal order.” 
 
“The RIU was sent to Marikana because the state could not depend on local police,” said Mohamed. 
“There’s no one to control masses, therefore there is more reliance on repressive measures. The police have requested a R3.5 million budget this year, and drones are a part of this.”
 
Drone technology seems to be responding in parallel kind with the nod of national government. The private security company <a href= http://www.desert-wolf.com/dw/products/surveillance-comms-4×4.html>Desert Wolf</a> sold the pepper-spraying drones that are to be used against protestors, to an international mining company in South Africa. 
 
The sales were hung on the dubious tagline of “preventing another Marikana”. The drone is described by British lawyer James Nichol, who represented the families of the dead miners, as “absolutely outrageous”.
 
But local government denies there is any sinister agenda in their drone tests. “It’s not some CIA plot,” said Smith. “We will be using drones – if we decide to even purchase them – for limited use, mostly aerial photography and to assist us in decision-making around disaster management and planning.”
 
Smith insists that drone use for “crowd control” or to “monitor protests” is out of the provincial government’s “capability”, and said this issue was the jurisdiction of national government. 
 

Is the Western Cape government opening the door to US Homeland Security?

When I interviewed Smith, he insisted that the drones were not yet in the sky and were still in the testing phase. The first tests were to begin two weeks ago. And yet, a source who works in the informal settlement of Masiphumalele in Hout Bay, where there has been a history of police and civilian conflict over land, reported having seen drones hovering in their skies for at least six months.
 
Smith also said the Western Cape government had been approached by several private security companies for some time. “Different drone operators have been proactively bugging us for two to three years now,” he said. 
 
When I asked him if the Desert Wolf security company was one of the companies offering Cape Town surveillance drones, he said he’d never heard of them, since he “wasn’t dealing directly with the companies”. And yet Desert Wolf’s marketing manager Henriëtte Kieser confirmed via telephone that they were one of the companies tendering for the contract. 
 
Desert Wolf is the official southern African representative for a company called FLIR systems.  FLIR systems, based in Oregon in the US, is “the world's largest commercial company specializing in the design and production of thermal imaging cameras, components and imaging sensors.” One of their largest clients is the US Department of Homeland Security. Its thermal imaging and “threat detection” products are also regularly showcased on US TV Channels.
 
The news around new rules allowing drone deployment in South Africa and the formation of elite police units, come in the context of AFRICOM’s aim to secure American interests in Africa. In an interview with Marine Corps Times in February, Marine Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, deputy to the commander for military operations at AFRICOM, said: “it’s about developing security and defense institutions with the partnering countries. We’ll find out what they need and what they want, and we’ll look at how willing and capable they are and then determine what we can do to help shore up their security.”
 
Aside from potentially shoring up strategic security interests in South Africa, the advent of drones to the country sound a warning bell for what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) terms “mission creep” – how the public is often sold on something within a panicked or “high threat” environment – similar to the way in which the PREVENT strategy was sold to Britons in the wake of 7/7 – and with time, people accept these new technologies and policies, despite the devastating effect on individual and community behaviours.
 
In the same way, says Duncan, South Africans stand a danger of being hoodwinked into accepting drones, through the cultivation of a sense of panic around issues that cause people to easily cast aside issues like privacy: crime and other issues such as environment and planning. 
 
If South Africa policy around drone manufacture is anything to go by, then things don’t look hopeful. South African company Denel Dynamics is a major supplier of armed drones like the Seeker 400, which is equipped with air-to-ground missiles. Unconfirmed reports last year said that the government had approved the export of an unknown number of Seeker 400s to Saudi Arabia after the US declined to sell a consignment of its Predator drones to the Saudi government.
 
In the US itself, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently reported that although in the initial stages of surveillance drone deployment, drone policy was sold to the public with the understanding that drones would not be used against their own people – but reports by the ACLU show an increase in domestic drone use for police actions, as well as the manufacture of drones able to dispel tear gas and rubber bullets. 
 
It’s this sort of “mission creep” that needs to be prevented through effective and publicly challenged legislation. 
 
Duncan urges caution when the label “threat” is used by analysts and policy makers. Various “threats” have been used to sell policies in South Africa’s apartheid past and more recently, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where an alleged “terrorist threat” was talked up to such an extent that the event left South Africa with an enduring security legacy of millions spent on joint police and military deployments – and a pattern of reaction to civil unrest that augments this shadow.
 
“There also have been scaremongering around al-Qaeda cells in South Africa that have proved to be baseless,” said Duncan. “I would say that any terrorist threat has been from the right-wing and has been dealt with very effectively.”
 
“The threat is effective because it creates an insecurity. When you talk this up, and dovetail it with crime threat, it’s easier to push through these measures. What we’ve learnt by 9/11 is that we must be more critical in terms of these measures, as they may come back to bite us.”

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)