ANC stalwart and former Ambassador to the Republic of Algeria, Billy Masetlha, has been described as a loyal servant of South Africa despite “explosive files” he held on ANC factions.
This is according to former SA diplomat Botsang Moiloa and ANC veteran Mogomotsi Mogodiri, who have heaped praise on the former ANC national executive committee (NEC) member for his role in the party and in government.
Masetlha, who was the former director-general of South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency, died yesterday at the age of 68 following a long illness. Messages of condolences have flowed from different corners of South Africa, including the ranks of the party Masetlha called his political home.
Moiloa said the country had lost a loyal leader who knew enough to destroy politicians but remained calm and loyal.
“The loss of Bra Billy hits hard to those like us who have worked with him. As a diplomat I was responsible for corporate and consular services we were handling on behalf of Home Affairs. My first encounter with him was in 2001 just after I had been appointed as Chargé D’ Affaires (Ambassador at Interim) to Rwanda.
“During that period Ntate Masetlha had just been given a special envoy position as the person who was responsible for creating the national security committee for President [Thabo] Mbeki. He was one of the people I had to first meet with before taking my assignment to Rwanda. Wow, what a gentleman! He was a very committed public servant. He protected and loved South Africa with all his heart,” Moiloa told African Times.
Moiloa said Masetlha did not judge him after learning that he was a Pan-Africanist.
“What I liked most about him is that even after he discovered that I’m a Pan-Africanist, he was very encouraged that there were people like me in the diplomatic service who were committed to building South Africa even when they were not members of the African National Congress (ANC).
“He personally introduced me to a number of people in the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) when he was the head of South African Security Services. Some of them were white people and some of them were former Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) forces that I had known and worked with. It was Ntate Masetlha who had introduced me to say ‘here are some of your former comrades who are well-disciplined spies,’” he said.
In 2006, Masetlha’s name was linked with disproven claims that he had created hoax emails that he later pretended to have intercepted. During his tenure at the NIA (now State Security Agency (SSA), he was accused of manufacturing a dossier about a plot aimed at destroying the then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma and secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe.
The claims of the discredited emails took centre stage at the 2007 ANC national elective conference in Polokwane that saw Zuma defeating President Thabo Mbeki and taking over the presidency of the party. Masetlha, who had been fired nearly two years before the end of his contract, had faced charges of contravening the Intelligence Services Oversight Act.
He attempted to get his job back through the courts but failed because of the severed trust between him and Mbeki. Three years after he was charged, Magistrate Dawie Jacobs acquitted Masetlha and his two co-accused, Muziwendoda Kunene and Funokwakhe Madlala.
Jacobs said the state had failed to convince the court that the three were guilty.
Moiloa said he was saddened to witness the fallout between Masetlha and Mbeki.
“It was a sad state of affairs when there was a fallout between him and Mbeki. He got caught up in the skirmishes of the factions of the ANC, but in all those years, Ntate Masetlha was committed to serving the country.
“He never ever sold the State information that he possessed and he knew would have taken a lot of people down on any faction of the ANC and some business people of this country that the ANC had made. That was one thing that I admired about him, that he was very patriotic. He defended and protected the country,” Moiloa said. “I have learned a lot from that gentleman, to be loyal to my government,,and to be loyal to the country, and to be very patriotic. One thing that he would always say was that, ‘under any circumstances, do not forget you are there to serve, no matter which political party you come from.'”
Moiloa wished Masetlha “eternal peace”, adding he “went too soon”.
Mogodiri, a former Mkhonto we Sizwe (MK) combatant and political detainee, told African Times that Masetlha’s death was a great loss to the action.
“The news of the passing of Comrade Billy Masetlha is devastating not only to me personally but also to the liberation movements in our country and the rest of the world. Comrade Mandoza, as I fondly referred to him, was a fearless, principled, and dedicated fighter for liberation.
“As one of the founders of the Congress of South African Students, his militancy and activism attracted the attention of the brutal apartheid state repressive machinery. He was then forced into exile where he joined the ranks of the People’s Army, uMkhonto we Sizwe,” said Mogodiri.
Mogodiri said Masetlha was part of the underground structures that fought for South Africa’s liberation from the brutal apartheid regime.
“I had the privilege of working under his command as part of MK’s underground machinery operating out of Botswana. I’m eternally indebted to his and a host of other comrades’ tutelage to have become what I am politically.
“A strategist and incisive thinker, Comrade Mandoza played a prominent role in the war of liberation, the transition period, and the establishment of the new government in our country,” said Mogodiri.
He added: “It is also not surprising that he became one of the ANC deployees who led the Departments of Home Affairs and Intelligence – roles he played with aplomb. As an internationalist, being appointed an ambassador was a feather in his hat of great accomplishments.”
Mogodiri said the ANC needed more people like Masetlha.
“My heart goes out not only to the Masetlha family but also to the ANC, an organisation he dedicated most of his life to our country, especially during these trying times when fearless and critical thinkers like him are in short supply. “May his revolutionary rest in eternal peace! Robala ka kgotso motlhabani wa ntwa ya kgololosego”
Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, said they were deeply saddened by the news of Masetlha’s death.
“Ambassador Masetlha passed on today, 14 May 2023, after a long illness. Ambassador Masetlha has served the government in various capacities, including as Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, and was deeply involved in the anti-apartheid movement, including as a member of Umkhonto We Sizwe.”
“Masetlha was exiled in Botswana, Zambia, and other places. During this time, he worked with the youth and student organisations in the fight against the apartheid regime. Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa has lost an experienced and dependable representative and a firm believer in the ideals and goals of Pan-Africanism,” Monyela said.