April 16 2008 at 06:53AM
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has defended the Scorpions after the ANC accused the crime fighting unit of sheltering former apartheid security police intent on destroying the ruling party.
It was reacting to accusations by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who also accused the Scorpions of acting like an opposition party.
On Tuesday, Mantashe said some of the reasons the ruling party wanted to disband the Scorpions was its "unfair" treatment of senior members and the clear antipathy the unit had towards the party.
"We have committed a mistake by putting a lot of the special branch into the NPA and they see their erstwhile opponents as the same enemy today. That is why they have become a political organisation with an objective to fight the ANC."
But NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali hit back, saying: "The NPA is not a haven for criminals, nor is it there to shield those whose mission it is to destabilise democratic order in this country.
"Our conduct has to contribute towards enhancing public confidence in the institutions of state and not sponsor efforts to undermine them."
He said the NPA's business was to investigate and prosecute those it believed had committed crimes.
"We are not a self-serving political organisation, but an institution of state accountable to parliament and to South Africa by extension."
Tlali said all Scorpions staff members had the necessary security clearance to do their operational duties.
This is not the first time the NPA has had to defend one of its own from attacks by the ANC.
In January, the ANC's national working committee accused Gerrie Nel, the Scorpions' Gauteng head and lead investigator in the Jackie Selebi investigation, of being a member of the apartheid-era riot squad. The NPA issued a statement rejecting this as false.
On Tuesday Mantashe also said the Scorpions had to be closed to make way for a more aggressive crime fighting unit to deal with organised crime.
The Scorpions, he said, solved most of its cases through plea bargains.
"We need professional investigators and detectives who fight crime and corruption.
"We don't want people who will give plea bargains to everybody as long as you can incriminate the ANC," he said.
His statement followed a meeting with DA leader Helen Zille on Tuesday, when she again tried to convince the ANC that its decision to disband the Scorpions was foolish.
"We believe it's critical for all South Africans, especially the poor, to have a force that can prevent South Africa from becoming a state in which corruption is endemic," she said.source