Who Exactly Are the South African Police Unit, the Hawks?

The Hawks investigative unit of the South African Police has been in the news recently because of a so-called former rogue unit at the SA Revenue Service that the Hawks want to question Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan about.

Ntlemeza
Major-General Ntlemeza. Source: Twitter @trevorncube.

A report in the Sunday Times this weekend even suggested Gordhan faced imminent arrest over the allegations, although President Jacob Zuma’s office denied the report. Earlier this year, when Gordhan was sent questions about the unit by the Hawks soon after he was appointed finance minister, he lashed out at the timing of the event.

“The letter (Gordhan received) from the Hawks is an attempt by some individuals who have no interest in South Africa, its future, its economic prospects and the welfare of its people,” he said at the time. “I can categorically state that the Hawks have no reason to ‘investigate’ me.”

But the case persists, and some see it as Zuma’s faction – because the Hawks fall under his self-appointed minister of police – against Gordhan.

If you don’t know much about the Hawks, here are a few pointers:

Who are the Hawks?

“The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation has been established as an independent directorate within the South African Police Service in terms of Section 17C of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 as amended by the South African Police Service Amendment Act, 2008 (Act 57 of 2008).

“The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation is now responsible for the combating, investigation and prevention of national priority crimes such as serious organized crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption in terms of Section 17B and 17D of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 as amended.” (From the Hawks website)

Where is their headquarters?

Silverton, Pretoria.

Did they take over from the Scorpions?

Kind of. The Scorpions were disbanded shortly before the Hawks came into existence. The Scorpions were independent of the police. The Hawks fall under the Minister of Police, which, some argue, compromises their independence.

Who is the chief of the Hawks?

Major-General Mthandazo or “Berning” Ntlemeza. He was appointed in September 2015 after acting as chief since December, following the controversial suspension and resignation of General Anwa Dramat. Dramat was suspended on December 23, 2014, pending a probe into his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of four Zimbabweans in November 2010. He resigned in April last year, and appeared in court over the Zimbabwean incident as recently as last week.

Or is he the chief?

Some would argue he is not. The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) filed an urgent application in 2015 in a bid to have Ntlemeza’s appointment reversed. The HSF was joined by the organisation Freedom Under Law in a bid to unseat Ntlemeza, saying he was not fit to hold office. (From the Institute of Strategic Studies)

Why did they allege that?

In the High Court in Pretoria…on 23 March 2015, Judge Elias Matojane had the following to say about Ntlemeza: ‘In my view, the conduct of the third respondent (Ntlemeza) shows that he is biased and dishonest. To further show that the third respondent is dishonest and lack integrity and honour, he made false statements under oath.’ (From the ISS)

What did Ntlemeza’s boss have to say about those allegations?

On comments made by Judge Elias Matojane accusing Ntlemeza of lying under oath in March (2015) and being dishonest, and lacking integrity and honour, police minister (Nathi) Nhleko said they were just comments and they did not know what triggered them. (Mail & Guardian)

Did the court case succeed?

No. In late April, the North Gauteng High Court dismissed the bid to have Ntlemeza suspended.

How successful are the Hawks?

“(S)ince the disbandment of the Scorpions in January 2009‚ there has been a 60 percent decline in arrests and an astounding 83 percent plummet in conviction rates in the last six years of the Hawks’ existence.

“In the 2010/11 financial year‚ there were 14,793 arrests with 7037 convictions. However‚ in the 2014/15 financial year‚ only 5847 arrests were made and a comparatively feeble 1176 convictions obtained.” (From the Demoractic Alliance)

Who were the Scorpions?

The Directorate of Special Operations (also, DSO or Scorpions), established by Thabo Mbeki in 2001, was a multidisciplinary agency that investigated and prosecuted organised crime and corruption. It was a unit of the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa.

It was officially disbanded late in January 2009 by acting President Kgalema Motlanthe, after coming into conflict with the (then) head of the South African Police Service, Jackie Selebi.

The ANC decided to merge the Scorpions with the SA Police Service following the Khampepe Commission by June 2008, reducing their power. The disbandment was recommended by South Africa’s minister of safety and security, Charles Nqakula.

The decision was controversial, and was opposed by a majority of South Africans and interest groups ranging from opposition parties to organised business. The Democratic Alliance has accused the ANC of merging the Scorpions with the South African Police Service in order to subvert investigations into the SA Police and protect corrupt ANC officials. (From Wikipedia)

What happened to Jackie Selebi?

On 10 September 2007, the National Prosecuting Authority issued a warrant of arrest for the former chief of police for corruption, fraud, racketeering and defeating the ends of justice. He served 219 days of a 15-year jail sentence, but was released on medical grounds and died at home last year, aged 64.

How successful were the Scorpions?

Very. Prominent examples of their work include the arrest and successful prosecution of former national commissioner of police Jackie Selebi, and an investigation that resulted in 783 criminal charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering against then deputy president Jacob Zuma. (From the ISS).

They also went after Zuma’s friend Schabir Shaik.

Is that why they were disbanded by the cabinet?

The true story still has to be told.