ONE of the first actions of the faction loyal to President Jacob Zuma at the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference was to pass a resolution calling for the disbanding of the Scorpions, a unit of the National Prosecuting Authority charged with fighting organised crime.
It was a breathtaking show of political partisanship given that Zuma was, at the time, being investigated for corruption and fraud by the Scorpions.
The Scorpions had already successfully put behind bars Zuma’s financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, for his part in bribing Zuma.
After the charges against Zuma were dropped on the grounds that they were politically motivated by the then acting head of prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, Zuma ascended to office.
His government turned the Polokwane resolution into law and the Scorpions were replaced by the Hawks. The new agency was to report to the police service and, critically, it lost the independence from interference offered by a reporting line to the prosecuting authority.
Mpshe left the stage and Zuma replaced him with Menzi Simelane, a man who openly believed that the prosecutions agency ought to be politically accountable.
He had been found by Frene Ginwala, who conducted an inquiry into Vusi Pikoli’s fitness for the job of directing prosecutions, to have irregularly attempted to abort the arrest of then police chief, Jackie Selebi.
The Zuma presidency had effectively removed the teeth of the NPA and the Scorpions, placing the investigation and prosecution of organised crime cases firmly within the orbit of the political leadership.
As if to underscore the point, Zuma had appointed an old political bruiser, Bheki Cele, to the position of Police Commissioner and the brother of his jailed financial advisor, Moe Shaik, to head the South African Secret Service.
It is perhaps a sad indictment of civil society that this reshaping of the security and intelligence landscape in the image of a political faction occured with barely a whimper of public protest.
Only one man, Hugh Glenister, felt sufficiently outraged to legally challenge the demise of the Scorpions. After losing in the Western Cape High Court, he continued his battle in the Constitutional Court.
This week the court ruled by a narrow margin that it had been wrong to create an agency to fight organised crime that was not independent of political influence.
It did so with the Chief Justice, Sandile Ngcobo — appointed by Zuma to the job in 2009 — writing a minority opinion against the ruling.
This trickle of justice might not be sufficient to reverse the tide of corruption, but it is a timeous reminder to the powerful that the law still stands above them.
* This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times of 20 March, 2011