Hawks (South Africa)

The Hawks are South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) which targets organized crime, economic crime, corruption, and other serious crime referred to it by the President or the South African Police Service (SAPS)[1] set up by the Zuma administration in 2008. The DPCI replaced the Scorpions which was independent of the SAPS structures.

Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation
The logo for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.
The logo for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.
Common nameHawks
Agency overview
Jurisdictional structure
National agencySouth Africa
Operations jurisdictionSouth Africa
General nature
Operational structure
HeadquartersPretoria, South Africa
Agency executive
Parent agencySouth African Police Service


The decision to replace the Scorpions with a new organisation (The Hawks) came from a resolution taken by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress in 2007 in Polokwane, Limpopo. The ANC argued that government oversight was needed in such a body so as to avoid the agency being used as a political tool to investigate politicians.[2] This followed from a power struggle between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma that resulted in an investigation into Zuma's involvement in the arms deal.[3]

The DPCI was established as an independent directorate within the SAPS in terms of Section 17C of the South Africa Police Services Act, 1995 as amended by the South African Police Service Amendment Act, 2008 (Act 57 of 2008).[4]

Certain provisions of the Act were found to be unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of South Africa in March 2011 in Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others.[5] As a result, the Act was amended by Parliament in September 2012.[6] Sections of the amended Act were themselves found to be invalid and deleted by the Constitutional Court in November 2014 in the Helen Suzman Foundation v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others; Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others.[7] Following the judgement President Zuma reiterated his support for keeping the unit under the control of SAPS and thereby also under the control of executive government.[8]

National Directorate HeadEdit

The following people have represented the DPCI as its national head:

  • Anwa Dramat 2009 – 2014
  • Berning Ntlemeza (acting) 2014 – 2015
  • Berning Ntlemeza 2015 – 2017
  • Yolisa Matakata (acting) 2017 – 2018
  • Godfrey Lebeya 2018 – present


Detractors of the decision to reform the Scorpions into The Hawks expressed concern that the new agency would not be as effective as the Scorpions in dealing with government corruption.[9] Inkatha Freedom Party MP Koos van der Merwe described the decision to replace the Scorpions with The Hawks was done so as to "protect ANC leaders and members from criminal investigation and possible prosecution."[3] When the organisation was first founded its staff reported to then National Commissioner of Police Jackie Selebi. Selebi was, at the time, under investigation for corruption by the Scorpions.[10]

In the period following the replacement of the Scorpions by The Hawks levels of corruption within and outside of government has increased.[11][12] A number of studies have found the lack of political independence to investigate corruption as well as its dependence on SAPS has had a strongly negative effect on the organisation's effectiveness.[2][13]


Booysen/Jiba chargesEdit

In 2015 former head of The Hawks office in KwaZulu-Natal, Major General Johan Booysen, sued the state for wrongful arrest. Booysen was arrested in 2012 for allegedly being involved in operating a “death squad” as part of the Hawks Cato Manor organised crime unit. The Booysen arrest was initiated by Nomgcobo Jiba, then acting national director of public prosecutions. Following the arrest Jiba was tried for "fraud and perjury relating to her failed attempts to prosecute Booysen." Booysen claims that he was "set up and criminally charged to stop him pursuing specific cases of corruption."[14]

Gordhan investigationEdit

In mid-2016 The Hawks were involved in a controversial investigation of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan following his ministerial appointment. Gordhan was investigated for his possible role in setting up and running a "rogue" investigatory unit whilst he was head of the South African Revenue Service[15] (SARS) shortly after Zuma was compelled to appoint him Finance Minister following public outrage at the firing of the former minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene.[16] Supporters of Gordhan believe the Hawks' investigation was politically motivated and done so as to remove him from office[17] and lack legal merit.[18] ANC member and head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, Robert McBride, has accused the Hawks of being used by the ANC to fight internal political battles within the ruling party.[19] It was alleged that the Hawks illegally detained and assaulted a senior SARS employee in an effort to take a hard copy of an email mistakenly sent to him in which SARS's legal counsel stated their disagreement with the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority's decision to prosecute Gordhan.[20]


  1. ^ "South Africa's new priority crimes unit". SouthAfrica.info. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  2. ^ a b J Berning, M Montesh (March 2012). "Countering corruption in South Africa: The rise and fall of the Scorpions and Hawks". South African Crime Quarterly. 39. Retrieved 15 September 2016 – via African Journals Online.
  3. ^ a b Engelbrecht, Leon (24 October 2008). "Parliament votes to abolish the Scorpions". Defence Web. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  4. ^ "Home page of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation". www.saps.gov.za. Retrieved 2016-05-20.
  5. ^ (CCT 48/10) [2011] ZACC 6; 2011 (3) SA 347 (CC) ; 2011 (7) BCLR 651 (CC) (17 March 2011), http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZACC/2011/6.pdf
  6. ^ South African Police Service Amendment Act, 10 of 2012.
  7. ^ (CCT 07/14, CCT 09/14) [2014] ZACC 32; 2015 (1) BCLR 1 (CC); 2015 (2) SA 1 (CC) (27 November 2014), http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZACC/2014/32.pdf
  8. ^ "Zuma: Hawks must have some govt control". News24. 2014-05-04. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  9. ^ Ndletyana, Mcebisi (1 March 2015). "No way is Zuma fighting corruption". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  10. ^ "Ex-Scorpions boss warns Hawks". News24. 2009-07-06. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  11. ^ "TIM COHEN: Hawks are Zuma's chickens coming home to roost". Business Day Live. Retrieved 2016-09-15.
  12. ^ Tamukamoy, Hamadziripi (November 2013). "Independence in South Africa's Anti-corruption Architecture: Failures and Prospects". The Journal of the Helen Suzman Foundation (71). Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  13. ^ Gareth Newham, Irvin Kinnes (March 2012). "Feeling the Hawks: Why an anti-corruption agency should not be in the SAPS". SA Crime Quarterly (31). Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  14. ^ Underhill, Glynnis (30 April 2015). "Hawks boss: I was 'set up' to silence corruption investigations". Mail and Guardian. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  15. ^ Bateman, Barry. "Controversial Sars unit: Hawks summon Gordhan, former Sars employees". Retrieved 2016-09-12.
  16. ^ Thanduxolo Jika; Ron Derby; Peit Rampedi (20 December 2015). "Behind Zuma's U-turn: 'SA will go bust'". Sunday Times. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  17. ^ Mkhwanazi, Siyabonga (12 September 2016). "Support for embattled Gordhan grows". IOL. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  18. ^ Karim, Safura Abdool (25 August 2016). "Why the Hawks don't have a case against Gordhan". Groundup. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  19. ^ Mkokeli, Sam (15 September 2016). "Trial by public opinion: Why the Hawks stand accused of fighting the ANC's battles". Mail and Guardian. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  20. ^ van Wyk, Pauli (28 October 2016). "Violent showdown in Sars office exposes plot against Gordhan". Mail and Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2016.

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