Why disband the scorpions?

2008-01-23 00:00

On Monday, opposition parties vigorously condemned the decision by the African National Congress’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to disband the Scorpions and to absorb some members of the unit into the South African Police Service. The implementation seems to be something of a rush job: the NEC wants it completed by June.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille was forthright: “In the absence of any understandable reason from the ANC as to why the Scorpions should be disbanded, one can only assume that the government is doing so to protect the ANC from current and future corruption investigations”. There were seven convicted criminals on the ANC NEC, she said, and six other members of that body are currently under criminal investigation. Other parties agreed, with Kenneth Meshoe of the ACDP suggesting that the Scorpions, a “superb crime-fighting unit”, has been so successful in exposing crime in high places that it had become a threat to certain senior ANC members. UDM leader Bantu Holomisa questioned the June deadline and asked why the ANC leadership is obsessed with this issue, when there are so many more pressing matters demanding attention.

There is, of course, the argument that the successful Scorpions unit is a source of deep resentment to the SAPS and that this affects the work and effectiveness of the latter. Even if this were true, the answer would surely not be to disband the unit, but rather to find ways of inspiring the SAPS to match its standards of policing excellence. Without evidence or explanation to the contrary, however, it’s more logical to conclude that because the NEC knows the Scorpions would, quickly and easily, discover the skeletons in its collective cupboard, it is neutralising this extraordinarily potent and effective unit to protect itself.

The enforcement of law and order is a pillar of our democracy, and the Scorpions have played a vital part in sustaining this provision of the Constitution. What message does the disbandment of the unit carry in South Africa and to the rest of the world? Many here will be convinced that the upper echelons of the ruling party now form an arrogant, corrupt and secretive clique which believes itself to be above the law — and above the Constitution itself — and believes that it has the right to manipulate the South African justice system for its own ends. Elsewhere, the miracle of the South African democracy and the “rainbow nation”, which had begun to lose its lustre when the murky aspects of the arms deal first emerged, now looks seriously tarnished. The election of Jacob Zuma, a man sullied by charges of fraud and corruption, as ANC leader and presidential heir apparent, accelerated the process, and it appears now that the ruling party is intent on finishing the job. What next? The independence of the judiciary? The freedom of the press? Where does it stop?

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