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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Robert Mcbride: Murderous villain or fearless anti-corruption crusader?

The new director of the foreign branch of the State Security Agency has his supporters and critics both within the governing party and among regular South Africans, but who is Robert Mcbride really?

Just when everybody thought that Robert McBride was down and out, like a cat with nine lives, he has landed on his feet.

McBride’s latest appointment by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as director of the foreign branch of the State Security Agency, has seen him elevated to take charge of sensitive state security matters at international level.

McBride’s appointment is seen as part of Ramaphosa’s plans to clean the state security system, which had become embroiled in several controversies under former President Jacob Zuma. The appointment could also be interpreted as thumbing his nose at Zuma, whose police Minister Nathi Nhleko harangued McBride for his anti-corruption crusade as head of the Independent Police Investigation Directorate.

Depending on where you stand, there are two contradictory ways to describe McBride – he is a hero who helped bring about democracy and freedom, or a villain who should have stayed in jail for his “terrorist” activities against the apartheid regime.

This love-hate relationship with the man also extends to his comrades in the ruling party, with it being clear that not everybody in the ANC likes him. This, combined with the fact that he is hated by many whites for his past as the Magoo’s Bar bomber, makes him a foe at both sides of the racial divide.

This complicates the whole picture of who actually wants to see McBride going down – now and in the past.

In the process of his clandestine anti-graft probe, he rubbed many of his ANC comrades the wrong way and created many enemies within the party. But he proved to be a tough nut to crack, and during his infamous spat with Nhleko, many thought he had bitten off more than he could chew.

Mcbride, however, prevailed, leaving Nhleko in his wake.

Most of those closest to McBride constantly repeat the refrain, “he is anti-corruption”.

Among his close associates were former SACP Gauteng treasurer and ex-trade unionist, Ndzipho Kalipa who said McBride’s fall out with some in the ANC stemmed from his unwavering stance against corruption.  This view was echoed by former MK cadre and former Gauteng MEC for human settlements, Uhuru Moiloa, who also worked with McBride in the East Rand.

“Robert was a family man – he loves his wife and children and loves his country – he is a great patriot. Above all, Robert is anti-corruption. He is allergic to corruption. You will not be a friend of McBride if you like corruption. Whether it’s the former apartheid police, or the present ones, or his own comrades in the ANC, he would fight corruption where he sees it,” Moiloa said.

Kalipa describes him as a principled ANC cadre who is not shy to turn up the heat on his own comrades.

According to both Kalipa and Moiloa, McBride was so highly regarded in the ANC MK and work in the SDUs. Besides Moiloa and Kalipa, McBride work closely with then MK regional commander and Gauteng premier, Tokyo Sexwale, ANC head of security Paul Langa, and then ANC regional organisers like Oupa Monareng, Thami Luphoko, the late Wellington Nteyi and Vusi Kunene.

“He was very outspoken, very principled and never wanted to be shifted by factions in the ANC. He was solid and disciplined revolutionary who defended the Constitution, and the principles and values of the ANC in the democratic South Africa. He is disliked by many in the ANC who had shenanigans,” Kalipa said.

Kalipa, who worked with McBride in East Rand, said the man had helped to restore the people’s trust in the ANC hand at the East Rand people after he established Self Defence Units (SDUs) to fight against Inkatha Freedom Party attackers in the early 1990s.

“The ANC was very weak in the East Rand at the time, it had not hegemony but McBride revived the confidence of the people in the party,” Kalipa said.

Kalipa says McBride is fearless, and compared him to the late Chris Hani, who had approved of McBride’s activities in the East Rand. “You will never go wrong in appointing him to any position,” he said.

No matter where he had been appointed, McBride has always been in the headlines, including during his “erratic” tenure as chief of Ekurhuleni Metro police. At one time he was charged with drunken driving and defeating the ends of justice in 2006, but was acquitted in 2013. Kalipa, however, maintains the arrest was a setup, because McBride ruffled feathers when he arrived at the Metro Police.

McBride also once caused a diplomatic crisis when he was arrested in Mozambique in late 1998, for allegedly smuggling arms but he was released when the matter expired. It later turned out that he was undercover, investigating cross border heists and gun-smuggling. At the time this angered former president Nelson Mandela’s government, as many were unaware of the intelligence operation.

None of this changed the opinion of Kalipa, who continues singing his comrade’s praises. “McBride never cut corners for him to be in any position. He will never deviate from principles He deserves his new posting, I congratulate him. The ANC will never want to risk to put McBride in a position they know he is not suitable. You will never go wrong to appoint him,” he said.


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