Trisha Shetty (Editor)

South African Bureau of State Security

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

The South African Bureau for State Security (incorrectly given the abbreviation B.O.S.S. by journalists, Afrikaans: Buro vir Staatsveiligheid) was established in 1969 and replaced by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in 1980. The Bureau's job was to monitor national security. It was headed by Hendrik van den Bergh. The Bureau is perhaps most infamous for its involvement in the Information Scandal or Muldergate Scandal, when South African Government funds were used to establish a pro-National Party English language newspaper, The Citizen. This scandal was the main reason for its replacement in 1980.



During the middle of 1968, the South African cabinet approved the implementation of a centralised security service and on 28 August of the same year, General Hendrik van den Bergh was instructed to start planning the new organisation. On the 1 October 1968, Lieutenant-General Hendrik van den Bergh, Deputy Police Commissioner and Head of the Security Branch, was promoted to General and then appointed as Security Advisor to Prime Minister John Vorster. Attached to the Prime Minister office, he would be in command all security and intelligence chiefs in the country including the military, and reported only to Vorster.

By March 1969, the skeleton of a new security service begun to emerge with the release of the expenditures for 1969/70 when R5,320,500 was allocated to the secret services, a 188 percent increase over the previous year with R4,063,000 allocated to the Prime Minister's office and Van den Bergh. Military Intelligence's (MI) budget was reduced from R830,000 the previous year to a R39,000 a which would lead to continuous struggle for power between MI and BOSS throughout the seventies.

On 13 May 1969, Minister of the Interior S.L. Muller introduced the framework of the new service in the Public Service Amendment Bill which he said was responsible for co-ordination and would draw personnel from other security and intelligence organisations. It outlined the control of the Bureau for State Security would rest with Prime Minister and that the civil service Public Service Commission would have no control over it powers, functions and duties. A Government Notice No. 808 on 16 May 1969 announced the Bureau for State Security's formation and came into being retrospectively on the 1 May as a department under the Prime Minister. BOSS's function was stated as investigating matters of state security, collect and evaluate any information received and distribute the analysis when necessary throughout the government and secondly but more ambiguously, perform other functions and responsibilities when required.

The 19 May 1969 saw the introduction of the Security Services Special Account Bill and that would pass into law on 16 June 1969, and saw the use of money allocated to BOSS as confidential and not subjected to an audit by the Auditor-General as with other government departments. The General Law Amendment Bill was introduced on 4 June 1969 and passed into law on 30 June, with two clause of interest to BOSS. One, the amendment of Officials Secrets Act to include BOSS and secondly, preventing the Prime Minister, Van den Bergh or cabinet ministers from giving evidence or producing documents in court that might prejudice State Security. This caused outrage throughout the South African legal community as it could no longer protect citizens rights from the Executive.

On 5 September 1969, Prime Minister John Vorster formed a commission led by Justice H.J. Potgieter to establish the guidelines and mission for intelligence gathering by the Military Intelligence (later DMI) and the Bureau for State Security. The Commission to Inquire into Certain Intelligence Aspects of State Security, known better as the Potgieter Commission would investigate the clashes between the two organisations over who had primary responsibility for intelligence gathering in South Africa. As the BOSS head Hendrik van den Bergh was a close ally of the Prime Minister, it was seen by Military Intelligence as a foregone conclusion that BOSS would achieve favour. The Potgieter Commission reported back on the 2 February 1972 and the results were subsequently used to enact the Security Intelligence and State Security Council Act 64 of 1972 on 24 May 1972. The Act formalised the functions and the brief of BOSS while another part of this act would also established the formation of the State Security Council under the control of the cabinet and established it as the government's national centre for operational security.

Directors-General of BOSS/DONS

  • Hendrik van den Bergh – 1969 - 1978
  • Alec van Wyk – 1978 - 1979
  • Organisational Structure

    Its organisational structure of BOSS is said to have been composed of the following departments:

  • Subversion,
  • Counter-Espionage,
  • Political and Economic Espionage,
  • Military Intelligence,
  • Administration,
  • National Evaluation, Research and Special Studies.
  • End of the South African Bureau for State Security

    In the wake of the Info scandal in which the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) had become mired, the head of the BOSS, Hendrik van den Berg, resigned in June 1978 and was replaced by Alec van Wyk. The Bureau for State Security was then renamed the Department of National Security (DONS) on 1 September 1978.

    By 2 October 1978, Prime Minister B.J. Vorster had resigned and on 9 October, the Defence Minister PW Botha was appointed as the new Prime Minister of South Africa. On 20 November 1978, the Bureau of State Security was brought under tighter control as a cabinet portfolio called National Security managed by Prime Minister who also held the Minister of Defence portfolio. With the rise of PW Botha to prime minister, saw the SADF's power increase in cabinet and with that the Directorate Military Intelligence (DMI), who would strive to dominate security issues in the new government and decide its policy and implementation.

    In October 1978, Deputy Defence and Intelligence Minister Kobie Coetsee was appointed by Prime Minister PW Botha to lead a commission of inquiry into intelligence gathering in South Africa and in particular who would be the lead agency. It was believed that it was predetermined that the DMI would be the lead intelligence agency. PW Botha had decided to split the intelligence gathering ability of South Africa amongst four agencies, the DMI, BOSS/DONS, Security Branch and Foreign Affairs, hoping to reduce the political dominance by one over the others, but the rivalry would continue. At the same time the Erasmus Commission of Inquiry was investigating the Information scandal. Believing that the outcome of both inquiries were already predetermined, BOSS officials began to shred any document that that could be used against them.

    PW Botha was looking for an alternative to the policing function of BOSS as well as an alternative to a military view of intelligence, one which would provide long term strategic intelligence to the government about the southern African region and world. He viewed Foreign Affairs as too overt and tainted by the Information Scandal and therefore saw a need to organise BOSS into a new agency based around research and analysis and removed its old covert operational function and transferred that to the Security Branch of the police.

    The new Prime Minister PW Botha appointed Niel Barnard in November 1979 to form a new intelligence service. Barnard would take over the South African Department of National Security (DONS) after the retirement of the existing head Alec van Wyk. The now newly named National Intelligence Service was announced on the 6 February 1980. Barnard had to restructure the NIS to a role based on analysis and evaluation, which meant that the old organisations offensive operational and policing role had to change resulting in many of the old BOSS/DONS personnel leaving.


    South African Bureau of State Security Wikipedia