Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille is to request a meeting with African National Congress president Jacob Zuma to discuss the future of the Scorpions, she said on Thursday. "I intend to put this challenge to him. I will write to Mr Zuma and request an urgent meeting to state unambiguously the disastrous consequences that disbanding the Scorpions will have for South Africa."
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille is to request a meeting with African National Congress president Jacob Zuma to discuss the future of the Scorpions, she said on Thursday.
Zille told the Platform for Public Deliberation at the University of the Witwatersrand: “I intend to put this challenge to him. I will write to Mr Zuma and request an urgent meeting to state unambiguously the disastrous consequences that disbanding the Scorpions will have for South Africa.
“I have been to discuss the future of the Scorpions with President Thabo Mbeki. He made it clear to me that he wanted them to be retained in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and that the recommendations of the Khampepe Commission should be implemented.”
This followed Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula’s announcement during a debate on Mbeki’s State of the Nation address on Wednesday in which Nqakula said: “The Scorpions ... will be dissolved and the organised crime unit of the police will be phased out and a new, amalgamated unit will be created.”
The Scorpions are not part of the police but report to the NPA, which answers to the Justice and Constitutional Development Department.
The “best experience” of the two bodies will be merged. This, Nqakula said, is part of a “holistic approach” to the revamp of the criminal justice system, which will have organised crime as one of its main priorities.
Zille said Mbeki had clearly been overruled by his political bosses.
“Now we have to face the new deployer [Zuma] full square.
“As Business Day said today [Friday]: ‘There is only one person who can save South Africa from this shameful episode and that is Jacob Zuma. Zuma has to be able to separate the legal action against him from his duties as national leader’.”
The opposition leader said another possible route in retaining the Scorpions as part of the NPA would be a legal one.
She said there were at least two legal arguments which could test the constitutionality of disbanding the unit.
“Of course, the DA will not commit to any such court action until we have a firm legal basis to do so. We are currently consulting with constitutional lawyers in this regard.
“If there is a viable legal route to challenge the dissolution of the Scorpions in the Constitutional Court, we have the means and the will to do so,” Zille said.
She called on other opposition parties, the media, civil society and concerned South Africans to fight for the Scorpions and “against everything its dissolution represents.
“I would argue that this issue cuts to the very heart of the constitutional crisis brewing in South Africa.”
The decision to dissolve the unit was taken unilaterally by the ruling party, she said.
Cosatu welcomes decision
On the other hand, the Congress of South African Trade Unions welcomed the
government’s decision to dissolve the unit.
“This move is in line with the resolutions passed by both the Cosatu ninth congress and the ANC’s Polokwane conference. The government is to be congratulated for responding promptly to the voice of the majority of the people as expressed in those resolutions,” said spokesperson Patrick Craven.
He said Cosatu’s concern had been that the Scorpions’ existence as a branch of the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions blurred the necessary separation of functions between those investigating crime and those prosecuting the criminals.
This led to the rights of individuals being compromised—and there was a growing tendency for officers to be diverted from the fight against crime to political campaigns against certain individuals.
He said as a separate elite force they were not sufficiently subject to public accountability, but increasingly a law unto themselves.
“The federation remains totally committed to the fight against crime, regardless of who the criminals are, particularly those involved in organised crime, which the Scorpions were supposed to be targeting.
“We do not believe that this fight will be compromised by incorporating the Scorpions’ staff into the SAPS [South African Police Service], and we shall be insisting that the united body intensifies the war on crime in a more coordinated way.”
He said Cosatu would continue to monitor the work of the police and would speak out strongly against any abuse of human rights by its officers.
Craven said the police had violently over-reacted to recent trade unions protests.
Cosatu would condemn any move to bring the Scorpions’ “bad habits”—and political bias into the ranks of the SAPS, he said.
‘Is this the true heart of the ANC?’
Newspaper editorials condemned the move.
Business Day wrote: “Without advancing a single coherent argument, the ruling party not only decides to get rid of a vanguard force in the fight against organised crime and corruption, it announces it to the world as a fact, as though Parliament simply does not exist.
“Is this the true heart of the ANC? Is this the essence of the movement we danced in the streets for in 1994?”
The Citizen wrote that by making the announcement on Wednesday, Nqakula considered it “already done and dusted, forgetting the small detail of the move having to be approved by Parliament”.
“The crime-fighting unit was created by an Act of Parliament and must be disbanded by majority vote.”
The editorial continued: “So much for accountability by government, so much for oversight by those chosen to serve the interests of the people. And so much for consideration of the disapproval of many South Africans.”
“... The burning question is why would the ANC leadership want to disband the very unit it created, and which it now fears because of its success? How many more worms will be concealed in the woodwork with the Scorpions gone?”
The Sowetan wrote that Nqakula should explain why a unit he describes as having the best experience should be merged with another police unit—instead of them complementing one another.
“In the absence of such an explanation, the state’s plan to phase out the Scorpions will be shrouded in suspicion that the crack unit had bitten too close to the bone in the way they pursued their work.”
Beeld said that because the Scorpions were brought to life by Parliament, it was therefore Parliament’s job to dissolve them, not Nqakula’s.
“The minister’s actions strengthen the perception that South Africa is now governed out of Luthuli House in Johannesburg—the seat of the ANC president [Jacob Zuma]—and not out of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the president [Thabo Mbeki].
Beeld continued that it was the Zuma faction within the ANC that want to take the sting out of the Scorpions who had brought Zuma to court [for a forthcoming fraud and corruption trial].
It would be interesting to hear what Mbeki said when he replied to the debate, the newspaper said. - Sapa