South Africa’s Directorate of Special Investigations, popularly known as “the Scorpions” are a modern-day Untouchables.
The unit’s impressive 85% conviction rate over the past two years partially explains why it enjoys such huge popular support. The fact that this fraud-busting national prosecuting authority has a Hollywood-style panache also contributes to its prestige.
It consists of over 3,500 staff and has a fast-rising budget, worth 950m rand. Made up of body armor-clad, submachine-toting assault troops, briefcase-wielding prosecutors and ink-stained forensic CPAs, the Scorpions have now turned their sights on deputy president, Jacob Zuma, who is accused of (and denies) asking for 500,000 rand (now $68,000) from a foreign arms company.
Their willingness to investigate someone in a position of great power makes them unique in Africa and unusual in the world. This combination of effectiveness, drama and integrity has made the Scorpions one of South Africa’s most solidly supported and influential law enforcement authorities.