Zondo says disbanding Scorpions was the ‘worst decision ever’
Chief justice says Shamila Batohi has his full confidence
Chief justice Raymond Zondo believes the government made the “worst decision ever” in the fight against corruption when it disbanded the investigative unit known as the Scorpions in 2009.
Zondo was speaking at the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council’s two-day conference.
He said the Scorpions played a key role in fighting corruption.
The Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), known as the Scorpions, were disbanded in 2009, months after former president Jacob Zuma was elected president of the ANC. The unit was established in 1999 by former president Thabo Mbeki. During the heated ANC presidential race in 2008, Mbeki was accused of using the unit to act against his opponents.
Zondo said that dissolving the unit was not a good move in the government’s fight against corruption.
“One of the worst decisions we’ve ever taken as a country in our fight against corruption was the disbandment of the Scorpions,” he said. “The Scorpions were said to have a very high conviction rate and were very effective but we allowed them to be disbanded.
“Maybe we as citizens did not stand up and fight. I have a sense that if the Scorpions had not been disbanded, we would not have the levels of corruption that we have right now.”
However, he said he has full confidence in the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi in the fight against corruption.
The chief justice, reflecting on the government’s past decisions, said the firing of Vusi Pikoli as the NDPP was not the best move.
“One of the things we did was to stop Vusi Pikoli from continuing as NDPP. He is a man of integrity and showed he was prepared to fight corruption, irrespective of who was involved. Maybe, sometime in the future, he will decide to help South Africa in the fight against corruption.”
Speaking to Sunday Times earlier, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula expressed the same sentiments as Zondo, saying the government made a mistake when it dissolved the Scorpions.
“We were very big critics of the Scorpions, about the way to arrest. But from a quality point of view, criminals knew that [when you were] surrounded by the Scorpions, it’s game over,” Mbalula said. “The model of the Scorpions seemed to be working for us at that time, and to be honest the ANC needs to go back to that.”
The unit was known for probing high-profile politicians including Zuma and former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
The unit investigated Zuma’s arms deal case, which is still before the courts.
Zuma’s co-accused, Schabir Shaik, who served as a financial adviser to the then-deputy president, was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years for corruption. Shaik was accused of facilitating payment of a bribe by the arms company Thint (Thales) to Zuma before he became president. He was released on medical parole, after serving two years and four months.
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