Scorpions disbandment

2008-02-14 00:00

The elite and specialised crime-fighting unit, the Scorpions, is to be dissolved. This was announced in Parliament this week by the Minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula, during the debate on President Thabo Mbeki’s State of the Nation address. Mbeki himself had left the matter open in his address, preferring a vague and generalised statement about a need to revamp the criminal justice system, taking various recommendations and reflections into account. Either Mbeki was deliberately misleading Parliament or this was his subtle way of indicating a personal preference to retain the Scorpions despite overwhelming pressure from his own party in the other direction.

Why is the ANC, or a significant part of it, so eager to dissolve what it was instrumental in setting up a decade ago? No satisfactory reason has been given, with the result that the public can only assume that it is because the Scorpions have been too successful in exposing corruption in high places. The current charges against ANC president Jacob Zuma and National Commissioner of Police, Jackie Selebi, are the two most prominent examples of this. Behind these and other cases loom the persistent rumours about the arms deal from which it is alleged that individuals, such as Joe Modise who was minister of defence when it was negotiated, have benefited personally. It is also alleged that the ANC took the opportunity for kick-backs to fill its party coffers. There is an increasing danger that the Scorpions will use their sting in unwanted quarters.

Parliamentary legislation established the Scorpions and it is only amended legislation that can disband them. Opposition parties are outraged that a bland announcement has been made by the relevant minister in advance of parliamentary debate and public consultation. They are also deeply opposed to the intended disbandment itself. There is unfortunately an accumulation at present of incidents and perceptions which is likely to exacerbate negative thinking about South Africa abroad, and that can only be to the whole country’s disadvantage.

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