The use of the police, intelligence services and NPA to fight personal, professional and political battles has reached crisis proportions in SA.
South Africa's most senior police officer, Riah Phiyega, has been drawn into the epidemic of infighting and Machiavellian intrigue that is consuming the leadership of our crime-fighting services.
A Sunday newspaper was played tapes, allegedly of Phiyega briefing Western Cape commissioner Arno Lamoer about a crime intelligence probe into his relationship with a local businessman. This followed a charge of obstructing justice that had been laid against her by suspended acting crime intelligence boss Chris Ngcobo.
If Phiyega's purpose was to shield Lamoer against investigation, that is a serious matter and she must answer for it. But there is a strong suggestion that the moves against her grew out of her "clear out" of rampant malpractice in the police force, and her suspension of Ngcobo days earlier.
Did crime intelligence operatives merely stumble on her conversation with Lamoer, or did something more sinister happen?
The use of the police, intelligence services and National Prosecuting Authority to fight personal, professional and political battles has reached crisis proportions in South Africa, and perhaps poses the single greatest threat to the country's crime-fighting endeavours.
It should be a source of major concern that, according to a senior Western Cape police officer interviewed by the Mail & Guardian this week, crime intelligence in the province has been so disabled by infighting that other arms of the service have been forced to gather their own intelligence.
Interference from the top reared its head under Thabo Mbeki's presidency, when there were increasingly strong signs that he and his loyalists in the prosecutions service were using the corruption investigation against Jacob Zuma to destroy him politically. Mbeki's attempt to shield national police commissioner Jackie Selebi from prosecution, which took place in the bitterly contested build-up to the ANC's Polokwane conference, also seems to have been a reflex of his political struggle with his deputy.
But the administration of the new president appears just as prone to politically actuated meddling: how else is one to understand the controversial dropping of corruption charges against Peggy Nkonyeni, one of Zuma's key allies in the pivotal province of KwaZulu-Natal?
Just as troubling has been the escalating abuse of police powers and infrastructure by senior officers to protect and benefit themselves.
Sources tell us that the crime intelligence special services account – intended for special intelligence-gathering operations and the payment of sources – has allegedly been abused by some in the ANC as a political slush fund over many years. More recently, however, the division's senior officers have allegedly taken to raiding it to buy cars and to finance trips abroad.
One might hope that senior police officers who have been caught with their pants down would respect the procedures of the criminal justice system. Their response, however, has apparently been to fight back with every weapon at their disposal, including access to the media and covert surveillance.
There is only one cure for this spreading illness: strict policies to deter the misuse of the security services for personal or political advantage.
It is a change that must start at the top. Richard Mdluli's masterstroke was to present himself as an ally of President Zuma, a conspiratorially minded politician who appears susceptible to the tittle-tattle of self-serving intriguers.