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Mail & Guardian Online reporter and Sapa, Sapa-AFP11 Aug 2008 15:55
The African National Congress (ANC) is “worried” about the public’s opinion on its decision to disband the Scorpions, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Monday.
“Never in all my years of attending public hearings have I seen one organisation put forward so many of its units to repeat the same message,” DA Eastern Cape safety and security spokesperson Bobby Stevenson said in a statement.
He was speaking after addressing the first of a number of public hearings being held throughout the country this week by Parliament’s portfolio committees on justice and constitutional development, and safety and security, on the Bills relating to the disbanding of the Scorpions.
The Bills concern the possible replacement of the Directorate of Special Operations, known as the Scorpions, with a new division within the South African Police Service (SAPS), known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.
“Judging by the applause which I received and other people who spoke in favour of the Scorpions, there is clearly a strong body of public opinion that is opposed to their dissolution,” said Stevenson.
In its submission, the Eastern Cape DA held that the Scorpions be retained in their present form. “There is a particular need for this in the Eastern Cape given the high levels of organised crime and corruption,” Stevenson told the hearing.
These organised criminal networks feed into local criminal activities.
“It is well known that the current form of the Scorpions has had a successful conviction rate in the region of 80% to 90%.
The combination of skills such as intelligence gathering, criminal investigators and prosecutors working in one team bear this out.
“Given their success rate and the increases in crime in the Eastern Cape, we need more of the Scorpions, not less, if we are going to stamp out organised crime.”
Stevenson said corruption in the province should also be investigated by a “highly skilled operation such as the Scorpions”.
“The reasons for the establishment of the DSO have surely not changed.” As he understood it, these were the police’s low conviction rates in priority crimes and the need for prosecution-led and intelligence-driven investigations in the fight against corruption, including police corruption.
There was also a need for an entity that could attract, recruit, reward and retain highly skilled personnel.
“This province is facing an onslaught of crime, which needs to be combated with every effective tool at our disposal,” said Stevenson. “The disbanding of the DSO in its current form will hamper these efforts and is a retrogressive step in the fight for a safer province and clean administration.
“Criminal activity impacts negatively on the economy. Given the high levels of poverty in the Eastern Cape, we need more effective policing—not less,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Eastern Cape residents were streaming to the Mdantsane Indoor Sports
centre for the public hearings on the Bills. About 300 people had arrived by the start of the hearings at 10am, according to the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
“The aim of these public hearings is to accord ordinary citizens a platform to engage the committees,” the parliamentary communication services said in a statement. “Public hearings have always played a crucial role in shaping the legislative direction which Parliament has championed over the past decade.”
Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, Congress of South African Trade Unions Gauteng provincial secretary Siphiwe Ngcina on Monday said the Scorpions have not succeeded in cutting crime, and instead have been cherry-picking cases of high-profile individuals.
He was speaking at the Johannesburg leg of the public hearings on the future of the Scorpions.
“The Scorpions service the rich and do plea bargains while core criminals run around the streets,” said Ngcina.
He said the DSO must be integrated into the SAPS, adding that it would then have the same capacity and resources as the Scorpions.
“We are positive that the Scorpions will be dissolved because a majority of people here have said so,” he commented.
When a member of the public enquired what would happen to high-profile cases once the unit merged with the police, a parliamentarian responded that the Bills designed to bring about the DSO’s dissolution clearly state that current cases would still be pursued.
Also in Johannesburg, Muziwonke Madlala (58), a member of the public, told the hearings that Parliament created but never groomed or nurtured the Scorpions, which it now sees as a monster.
“The Scorpions were established by government due to loopholes, and there was no consultation when it was established,” said Madlala.
“Some people who formed it are now teaming against it because they are being investigated,” he added.
Tsakane Shirindza (31), from Vosloorus, east of Johannesburg, questioned what it was that the government was afraid of which had led it to want to disband the Scorpions. “Whoever it is that you are afraid of will come out even after you disband it,” he cautioned.
In response to some of these concerns, MP Tlokwe Maserumule said the issue was not about the Scorpions, but about the whole cluster of justice, which was “flawed”.
“The unit is only a part of it, the whole justice system is flawed,” said the parliamentarian.
‘Punish the ANC’
The DA has also called on voters to “punish” the ANC for closing down the Scorpions by not voting for the party in next year’s general election.
“In 2004, the government disbanded the South African Narcotics Bureau and since then, drug-related crimes have multiplied,” DA Gauteng safety spokesperson John Moodey said in a statement.
“It is apparent that the powers that be are hell-bent on dissolving the Scorpions, just as they did the other SAPS special units such as the child protection unit ... We have seen and experienced the negative effects of such strategy.
“These few realities are sufficient cause for the Scorpions to be retained and in fact be strengthened. If the unit is doing its job and [is] investigating the ANC and its alliance partners’ office bearers, then so be it. Government and the ruling party are not above the law,” he said.
In a truly democratic society, the state would be listening to the people, added DA Mpumalanga chief whip and safety and security spokesperson Clive Hatch. Instead, public opinion about the Scorpions is being “fobbed off”, he said in a statement.
The public hearing in Mpumalanga will be held at the Lynville Hall, Witbank, from 10am on Tuesday. The more people attend, the greater the message of public dissatisfaction at the decision to disband the Scorpions, said Hatch.
“The DA has submitted petitions in the thousands. We will not be deterred in our quest to keep the Scorpions going,” he said.
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