Countering corruption in South Africa: The rise and fall of the Scorpions and Hawks

  • J Berning
  • M Montesh


In 1999 a new directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority was launched to ‘complement and, in some respects, supplement the efforts of existing law enforcement agencies in fighting national priority crimes’.1 Over the following seven years the Directorate of Special Operations, nicknamed the ‘Scorpions’, gained public favour; however, they were accused of, amongst other things, exceeding their jurisdiction by performing functions that fell outside their mandate. During the African National Congress conference of 2007, delegates took a decision that the Scorpions should be disbanded. In 2008, Parliament passed the South African Police Service Amendment Bill that replaced the Scorpions with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, located within the South African Police Service. In 2010 this move was challenged in Hugh Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa & Others [CCT 48/10]. The key question in this case was whether the national legislation that created the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks (DPCI), and disbanded the Scorpions, was constitutionally valid. In March 2011 the Constitutional Court ruled that the legislation establishing the Hawks was unconstitutional and ‘invalid to the extent that it fails to secure an adequate degree of independence for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.’ The Court gave the government 18 months to rectify the situation. This article provides an overview of the decisions that led to the formation and closure of the Scorpions, and the formation of the Hawks.

Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 1991-3877