In South Africa, the Scorpions Lose Their Sting

In South Africa, the Scorpions Lose Their Sting

Two weeks ago, the parliament of South Africa -- essentially an arm of the ruling African National Congress party -- voted to abolish the Directorate of Special Operations and fold their jurisdiction into the work of the National Police. The move surprised no one but has angered many. Over the course of its nine year existence, the independent crime fighting unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, colorfully known as the Scorpions, has brought charges against current ANC head -- and presidential heir-apparent -- Jacob Zuma, as well as other high-profile ANC-supported figures such as former National Police Chief Jackie Selebi and Winnie Mandela.

Critics argue that many of the Scorpion's investigations were selective and (especially the Zuma probe) politically motivated. Defenders claim that the Scorpions were among the few institutions that kept South Africa from becoming a kleptocrat's paradise. But given that South Africa has some of the worst set of crime statistics in the world, it seems odd that the country's lawmakers would choose this moment to eradicate the Scorpions by blending them into the far less effective National Police.

In a recent poll conducted by TNS Research Surveys, almost 60 percent of South Africans contacted believe that the Scorpions should be retained. Various lawsuits have been launched on their behalf, but the die is cast. The Scorpions' former boss, Leonard McCarthy, has already been recruited by the anti-corruption unit of the World Bank (after being labeled a subversive by members of the ANC's executive committee), and all members of the unit have been asked to either interview for other jobs within the police and civil-service or to hand in their resignations. To no one's surprise, many members are simply walking away in disgust.

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