Hawks vow to continue crime fight
Johannesburg - The Hawks warned criminals they would continue their fight against corruption, while taking steps to rectify legislation in line with a Constitutional Court ruling that they were vulnerable to political interference.
"Criminals should not be under the impression that the Constitutional Court judgement eliminates the work of the Hawks," spokesperson McIntosh Polela said in a statement on Thursday.
"The unit's fight against corruption continues unhindered."
The court ruled earlier that Chapter 6 of the SA Police Service Act, as amended, which enabled the disbanding of their predecessor the Scorpions and their own formation, was constitutionally invalid.
The declaration of invalidity was suspended for 18 months to give Parliament time to rectify the legislation.
The Hawks welcomed the judgment, saying they would take steps to give effect to it and were already reviewing the entire Police Act.
The Hawks fall under the police ministry, which promised it would comply with the timeline set down by the Constitutional Court.
"We want to assure the public that we will adhere to this timeline," ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said.
Until they had studied the entire judgment they would not comment further.
Businessman Hugh Glenister, who launched the application, said he was "shell shocked".
"I am a little bit shell shocked. I was really not expecting this," he told Sapa on Thursday.
Glenister took the case through the courts following a decision taken at the ANC's 2007 Polokwane conference that the Directorate of Special Operations (DPCI), known as the Scorpions, be disbanded.
The ANC had repeatedly accused the Scorpions of a political agenda as it tried to prosecute President Jacob Zuma for allegedly accepting a bribe facilitated by his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik and French arms company Thint.
After Shaik's conviction and sentence for corruption and fraud, the Scorpions pursued Zuma and Thint. This was however dropped due to interference in that investigation.
"I am full of the joys of spring," said Glenister, who had cut a lone figure chain smoking during the court recesses of previous hearings on the matter.
He lost several times as parallel objections by political parties and public petitions had no effect on the decision.
Plans went ahead to disband the Scorpions, who fell under the National Prosecuting Authority and justice department, and form the DPCI.
"I can only hope, but I cannot predict, that South Africans will now start tightening the reigns on their politicians at every level, from the municipal to national."
At one point he considered giving up.
"But people were chirping in my ear and making me positive. When battling a lone battle there are times when you get despondent, you just want to walk away and say 'enough'. But human beings have the capacity to inspire others."
Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel declined to comment and noted the court had directed itself at Parliament, not the justice department, to rectify the legislation.
"I think we would want the opportunity to study that judgment, but also ... the Constitutional Court has directed its order and its relief at Parliament to take action. So I think you should seek Parliament's views," Nel said.
The DA, which is still pursuing the decision to drop charges against Zuma and Thint, said the law which enabled the dissolution of the Scorpions was flawed, and that the Hawks were under-resourced and did not have logistical experience.
The party would provide a more comprehensive analysis of the judgment when they had studied it, said MP Dianne Kohler Barnard.
Made a mistake
Freedom Front MP Pieter Groenewald said: "The Constitutional Court's decision actually confirms that it had been a mistake to disband the Scorpions. The increasing abuse of power in the police also requires that there should be more independence for the Hawks to investigate the police."
In its ruling, the court explained that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and international agreements on combating corruption, which had been approved by Parliament, required that states create independent anti-corruption entities.
The judges said the DPCI's activities must be co-ordinated by Cabinet, and that the statute provides that a ministerial committee may determine policy guidelines for the DPCI's functioning, and for the selection of national priority offences.
This makes the unit vulnerable to political interference, with inadequate safeguards.
"... Conditions of service of the unit's members and in particular those applying to its head make it insufficiently independent. Members thus have inadequate employment security to carry out their duties vigorously; the appointment of members is not sufficiently shielded from political influence; and remuneration levels are flexible and not secured.
"These aspects make the unit vulnerable to an undue measure of political influence."
Victim of a plot
The judges also found the Constitution does not oblige Parliament to place a specialised corruption-fighting unit only within the NPA, where the Scorpions had been situated.
During the Zuma investigation the NPA was dogged by controversy. One of its heads, Bulelani Ngcuka, eventually left after a long-standing impasse over a statement that although they had prima facie evidence Zuma was guilty, they would not prosecute him.
Another NPA head Vusi Pikoli was subjected to an inquiry over whether he was fit to hold office after the unit attempted to arrest former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is now in the process of appealing a 15-year corruption sentence.
Although the inquiry concluded it could not find Pikoli was unfit to hold office, he was fired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe.
Selebi maintained he was the victim of a plot by the Scorpions.