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The Ministry of Police has confirmed that the number of arrests and convictions relating to serious crime has dropped sharply since the launch of the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations – better known as the Hawks – in 2009.

This is according to information obtained in a reply to a parliamentary question put forward in September by the DA.

The question was asked as follows:

(A) How many arrests were made by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations

(i) in the

a. 2010-11
b. 2011-12
c. 2012-13
d. 2013-14 and
e. 2014-15 financial years and

(ii) since 1 April 2015 and

(B) what total number of the specified arrests resulted in secured convictions?

The reply showed how the success rate of the Hawks has declined. Every year since 2010/2011 there have been fewer arrests and fewer convictions. The data is reproduced below:

Table detailing Hawks' arrest and conviction rateThis means that since January 2009 – the time when the highly successful Scorpions unit was disbanded – there has been a 60% decline in arrests and a disturbing 83% plunge in conviction rates.

The Scorpions unit, which operated independently under the National Prosecuting Authority, was disbanded after it had pursued corruption charges against Jacob Zuma. The Scorpions were replaced by the Hawks – which operate under the South African Police Service – but there are growing fears that this unit does not operate without political interference. The Hawks subsequently shut down the corruption probe into Zuma’s activities.

The Hawks’ mandate is the combating, investigation and prevention of national priority crimes such as serious organised crime, serious commercial crime and serious corruption, in terms of Section 17B and 17D of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 (amended).

Government falling behind in tackling corruption

“With the country losing approximately R30-billion – and climbing – each year to corruption, it is completely inexplicable as it is unacceptable that convictions in corruption have plummeted,” said Zakhele Mbhele, DA shadow minister of police, in a statement released around the parliamentary reply.

Furthermore, said Mbhele, the dismal results showed clearly that the disbandment of the Scorpions was fatally flawed in the first place, because it allowed for pervasive undue political influence.

Only when the Hawks are disbanded and the Scorpions re-instated, he said, would the country “start making meaningful strides in the fight against corruption with a credible head whose priority is to discharge his or her mandate without fear or favour”.