Hawks debate 'a storm in a teacup'
The police conceded on Wednesday that it could take a year before the Hawks have a full staff complement, after the Democratic Alliance insisted that Commander Anwa Dramat is still the only member of the elite unit.
Police spokesperson Sally de Beer said members of the defunct Scorpions and police who had applied to join the new organised crime-fighting unit “were all still awaiting finalisation” of their clearance process.
De Beer would not comment on how many members had formally joined the unit since its launch on July 6, saying only that “within 12 months it will be 3 500 strong”.
She expressed irritation with the allegation that this left Dramat as the only Hawk, saying: “I don’t know why people are trying to confuse the issue.”
The unit was promptly launched on the day the Scorpions ceased to be, though its structures were far from finalised, “as a transparent step to introduce the public to the concept” of the new unit, De Beer added.
Earlier on Wednesday, the DA’s Dianne Kohler Barnard demanded to know why no progress had been made in vetting potential new members of the Hawks in about two months, insisting it made Dramat a one-man show.
She pointed to two statements issued by the Police Ministry, one in late May and another this week.
Both gave assurances that the constitution of the unit was on track, but added “what is outstanding is the vetting of staff, with a huge number of almost 800 people who are going to be employed”.
“The Police Department waxed lyrical to the public about the speedy formation of the Hawks when, behind the scenes, it was making no progress at all,” she said.
“For 56 days, the Hawks’ staff complement grew by the sum total of zero.”
Kohler Barnard said it was unclear why the vetting of 218 former Scorpions, who had asked to join the new unit and whose security clearance had been routinely updated in their old jobs, was taking so long.
The Hawks rapidly drew political fire after their launch when they claimed responsibility for pre-empting a jewellery store robbery, arresting two senior police officers on charges of kidnapping, extortion and corruption, and arresting a home affairs official on suspicion of corruption.
Critics said the Hawks could not take credit as Dramat officially had no staff.
Police Ministry spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi countered that the allegations were part of a “conspiracy” against the unit.
De Beer said those who had applied to join the Hawks had been included in the police’s organised- and commercial-crime units, and were “through their command structures reporting to Dramat”.
This meant, she added, that the Hawks could legitimately claim responsibility for recent crime-fighting successes in which former Scorpions were involved.
Kohler Barnard accused the Police Department of fooling the public into thinking the new unit was operational.
“Quite clearly it believes it can feed any line it wants to the public ... Just how stupid do they think we are.”
She said the DA planned to raise the issue in a question to be tabled in Parliament in August.
‘Storm in a teacup’
But Institute for Security Studies (ISS) analyst Johan Burger dismissed the debate as “a storm in a teacup”, and said a country that made do with an interim constitution for a while after the advent of democracy would survive months of makeshift organisation at the Hawks.
“If I was the police minister and I had to answer such a question, I would say what the hell does it matter whether the members who arrested the criminals were formally attached to the Hawks or to the police’s organised-crime unit?
“They are members of the South African police force and we should be grateful that a few more criminals are behind bars.”
He said confusion had arisen from the fact that the Hawks were operating with an interim structure, but added that there was nothing sinister about the delay, as security vetting was conducted by staff already overwhelmed by routine crime investigation work.
“I really don’t think there is anything out of the ordinary if we want this done responsibly and properly,” Burger said.—Sapa