‘Corruption is SA’s biggest terror threat’

As the ANC calls for stricter document controls, a security analyst says corruption is the problem.

An image of a fake South African passport belonging to British national Samantha Lewthwaite (the 'White Widow) was released by Kenyan police in 2011. Picture: AFP

PRETORIA/JOHANNESBURG - As the ANC called for the tightening of immigration laws and stronger security measures on identity documents (IDs) and passports, a security analyst said corruption was the weakest link and not technology or legislation.

After a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on Sunday, the ANC's Gwede Mantashe said they would ask the country's security cluster to conduct a review.

At the same time, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says South Africans must not get carried away by exaggerated reports of terror threats in the country.

Chief Security Analyst at Red24 Ryan Cummings says government can implement the most sophisticated technology on IDs and passports, but security is only as failsafe as the officials behind the desk.

"Our biggest issue is low-level corruption that permeates across Home Affairs and also permeates across our border control," he says.

Cummings also downplays reports of the country raising its terror alert to orange.

"There isn't any evidence to suggest that South Africa's even hosting any domestic or trans-nationalist terrorist groups."

But Cummings doesn't rule out the possibility of an attack here, saying the country has a significant Western presence.

The ANC's call comes in the wake of the Nairobi mall massacre in Kenya.

Samantha Lewthwaite, dubbed the 'White Widow' by British media, was reportedly linked to the terror attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall, but there has still been no official confirmation of her involvement.

Lewthwaite spent several years in South Africa on a fraudulent passport.

Speaking to Talk Radio 702's Xolani Gwala on Monday afternoon, ISS Executive Director Jakkie Cilliers said he didn't believe the ANC was panicking in wanting to strengthen security.

Instead, he said the media was exaggerating about the level of risk South Africa faced.

"I think that there's a bit of a media feeding frenzy around the so-called White Widow. It's something sexy and everybody's picked up on this and they're making a big issue about this. We don't even know if she was involved in what happened in Kenya."

Cilliers said the fact that she manipulated the South African passport system was a concern, but not symptomatic of a major problem.

"South Africa has got a challenge; we need to be alert. But we have better identification and detection systems than any other African country than I am aware of," he said.

"One mustn't get carried away with these issues. Terrorism can come up anywhere, but I don't think we need to be that concerned."