n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Cowboys and crooks? Perceptions of the scorpions as a specialised investigative unit

Volume 21, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



The Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), better known as the Scorpions, has been instituted by Parliament at a time when swift and purposeful action by the police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was needed to efficiently deal "...with the scourge of organised and pervasive crime" (The Star 2008:10). Since its inception, the Scorpions established itself as an efficient investigative unit. Having been perceived as doing a better job than the South African Police Service in crime prevention, their operational skills apparently caused them to be envied in police circles. In the meantime, this unit has been dissolved by the Cabinet (Sunday Times 2008:1) apparently because of "...their role in bringing prominent ANC leaders to court" (Laurence 2008:10). The present study empirically explores perceptions of a non-probability sample in northern KwaZulu-Natal about selected aspects of the role of the Scorpions. The survey research method, incorporating a literature study technique, has been implemented to gain knowledge from newspaper reports over a wide spectrum of the research problem. Cross-correlation of data is based on two prominent independent variables: gender and race. It would appear that the Scorpions have been disbanded because of their investigation and subsequent prosecution of prominent politicians. Incorporating this unit into the SAPS may be indicative of a moral and constitutional crisis, predicting a definitive loss of specialised knowledge and expertise in the prevention of crime generally. Placing this unit under SAPS command would mean bureaucratising an elite crime fighting unit by means of subjecting it to strict rules and regulations and vertical police management. The plight from all quarters of society to have the Scorpions retained in its present form should be indicative of a desire on the part of law-abiding citizens to be protected against the criminal onslaught and the recognition of their constitutional rights.

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