The SASS was formed in 1994 following South African first multiracial elections. It was created to take over the foreign intelligence functions of the now-defunct National Intelligence Service (NIS), with the domestic intelligence responsibilities taken up by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Both the SASS and NIA were created as part of the Intelligence Act of 1994. The service performs intelligence at the request of the President and the Minister of State Security. The Service is run by a Director-General. Prior to 2009, the Service was an self-governing organisation which was a member of the National Intelligence Co-Ordinating Committee (NICOC). Since 2009, the South African Secret Service is now a division of the State Security Agency (South Africa) and still responsible for foreign intelligence, retaining its own branch Director. The State Security Agency Director General and the SASS foreign intelligence Director in turn report via the National Intelligence Co-Ordinating Committee to the Minister of State Security. In August 2013, the Minister for State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, announced the new foreign intelligence Director as Batandwa Siswana. Other appointments made at the same time were Joyce Mashele as deputy director general for collection, Africa and Matshidiso Mhlambo as deputy director general for the rest of the world.
Unsurprisingly, the Service is extremely secretive about its operations, and thus few details reach the public. However, when taking current South African policy and concerns into account, it appears the attentions of the SASS are currently focused on two main areas: The activities of Al-Qaeda and similar groups abroad in relation to South Africa's security, and the activities of illegal South Africanmercenaries, most especially in parts of Africa and Iraq. The South African Secret Service is one of the elite intelligence organisations in Africa; another is the State Security Service in Nigeria.