President Jacob Zuma has appointed a little-known member of Parliament (MP) from Mpumalanga to be the political head of the country's State Security Agency (SSA). Advocate Bongani Bongo was the biggest winner in Zuma's Cabinet change -- his second reshuffle in seven months -- on Tuesday, as the only individual who was not previously a Cabinet minister.
He was promoted from the ANC caucus to fill the shoes of David Mahlobo, who himself has been moved to head up the energy portfolio.
When News24 contacted a senior Mpumalanga ANC leader for comment on Bongo's appointment, he burst out laughing, saying: "Yeah, neh, things happen in South Africa."
The leader, who is a provincial executive committee (PEC) member, said Bongo has had a long-standing relationship with Premier David Mabuza, but the pair have had moments of conflict over the years.
Bongo is said to have been in the Mpumalanga ANC Youth League, but was not currently in the provincial executive committee (PEC).
A PEC member who did not want to be named said Bongo was known as "DD's [Mabuza's] man".
"They had a bit of a discomfort over whatever was happening at the department of human settlement in the province, where Bongo was working before he was moved to Parliament," the source said.
Bongo is said to be part of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign team in Mpumalanga.
The province is split between Dlamini-Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, while sources close to Mabuza say he wants ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize to be the unity candidate.
News24 political analyst Mpumelelo MKhabela said Bongo's appointment could be Zuma's attempt to woo Mabuza to the Dlamini-Zuma camp.
Bongo was sworn in as an MP of the fifth Parliament in May 2014, and was also an MP on the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans, along with justice.
Last week, Bongo strongly defended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane while the portfolio committee on justice deliberated the merits of an inquiry into her conduct.
He labelled the issue a "Democratic Alliance ploy" and "neither here nor there", saying it was a waste of Parliament's time to set up an ad hoc committee to probe her conduct.
In August, Bongo publicly backed Zuma to stay on as president during the failed motion of no confidence in his presidency via secret ballot.
He told News24 at the time that it would be disingenuous for any ANC MP to vote against the party line.
"The people voted for the ANC into power. So the ANC decided to put me on the list, so I have to abide by what the ANC says I must do," Bongo had said.
Role of State Security Agency
Former state security ministers have usually been key allies for Zuma during his tenure as president.
The SSA itself is mandated to provide the government with intelligence on domestic and foreign threats, and potential threats to national stability.
It is, therefore, mandated with powers to probe private and public information, through legal processes defined by the Intelligence Services Act.
It is also the only department that reports to Parliament and the joint standing committee on intelligence during closed meetings, to protect national security.
The SSA also vets all key public appointments through Parliamentary processes, such as the Auditor General, board appointments, such as the SABC, top police staff and the Public Protector.
It was created in October 2009 - following Zuma's call to reorganise the intelligence components of government - to incorporate the formerly separate National Intelligence Agency, South African Secret Service, South African National Academy of Intelligence, National Communications Centre and the Electronic Communications Security.