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Ex-Scorpions boss warns Hawks

2009-07-06 22:06

Johannesburg - Members of the "Hawks", the police's newly launched crime-fighting unit, must brace themselves for turbulence as they take over from their predecessors, the ousted Scorpions, a former Scorpions boss warned on Monday.

"My advice to you is you have to be thick-skinned as you weather the storms - there will be turbulence out there," said advocate Thanda Mngwenge, who used to be the deputy head of the Scorpions, now replaced by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations.

As he made the symbolic handover of 288 case files to Anwa Dramat, head of the DPCI, Mngwenge, sounding emotional, said: "...You have a huge responsibility ahead of you, so I wish you good luck."

The demise of the Scorpions, and the rise of the Hawks is the product of a resolution taken by the ruling ANC at its conference in Polokwane, Limpopo, in 2007.

'Hollywood style tactics'

With its newly elected president Jacob Zuma among those in the Scorpions' sights during a former corruption investigation, the ANC expressed dissatisfaction over the way the Scorpions operated, accusing them of "Hollywood style tactics".

At one point ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the Scorpions, launched in September 1999, hated the ANC and were filled with apartheid era security branch members who were targeting their former enemies.

Deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula, who once led the aim to have Zuma's charges dropped when he headed the ANC Youth League, told guests at the launch that he believed the new unit would function more effectively, and would work well with other agencies.

In line with the Polokwane resolution, and amid petitions, several court challenges and public hearings, the enabling legislation in the form of the South African Police Service Amendment Act and the National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Act was signed into effect in February.

First day at work

A former Robben Island prisoner and Umkhonto we Sizwe operative, Dramat was appointed in May, and Monday was the official first day of work for his new unit.

A deputy provincial police commissioner in the Western Cape, Dramat has been described by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa as having special expertise in crime intelligence.

His unit intends preventing, combating and investigating national priority offences and will focus on serious organised crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption - targeting what police call the "criminal high flyers".

He pledged greater co-operation between the police and other departments like justice, the Treasury, state security and the revenue services, and encouraged ordinary South Africans to become involved in the fight against crime, saying the Hawks would only succeed if the community helped them find criminals.

The acts provide for the transfer of the investigative capacity of the DSO to the police, and so far 218 of the 244 special investigators from the former DSO have agreed to move.

Young recruits

Top security clearance for at least 3 000 staffers is expected to be completed within the year, with 1 700 having already been screened.

Staff will initially be drawn from the ranks of the former DSO special investigators, the police's organised crime and commercial crime detectives and they also hope to attract young recruits into investigating high-technology crimes.

They will be subjected to ongoing security checks, which will include random polygraph tests.

The transfer of the investigators is being overseen by Commissioner Manoko Nchwe of the police, and advocate Willie Hofmeyr of the NPA, to ensure no breaks in investigations.

The investigators will work with a team of prosecutors appointed by the NPA, and a network of provincial offices will be set up.

The DSO prosecutors will stay in the NPA, or move on, depending on what they choose.

Destroying 'evil networks'

Mthethwa said the new unit marked a turning point in the fight against crime.

He said the name was chosen for the birds' ability to have an eye for detail and see from afar.

"We expect the unit to zoom in on the activities of criminals and destroy their evil networks here at home and across the world," he said.

Staff will report to the office of the National Commissioner of Police, currently Jackie Selebi, who is the subject of a corruption investigation initiated by the Scorpions.

He is on leave and news on whether his contract will be renewed or whether he will be replaced pending the finalisation of his case, set down for trial on October 5, is expected within the month.