British intelligence organisation MI5 and the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are the masters of South Africa's elite crime fighting unit, the Scorpions, a public hearing into their dissolution heard in Durban on Tuesday.

Sam Kikine, the head of the International Traditional and Medicine Research Council, accused these two organisations of controlling the Scorpions.

"Why have the Scorpions not investigated Wouter Basson and the CIA who have created this Aids? The Scorpions are working for MI5 and the CIA and not for South Africa," he told the hearing at the Umlazi Indoor Sports Complex.

Kikine claimed that the Scorpions were loaded with apartheid era "special branch" operatives, who had also been responsible for the death of activist and lawyer Griffiths Mxenge, who was assassinated in 1981.

Kikine said the council was supporting the proposed legislation to replace the Directorate of Special Operations, known as the Scorpions, with a new division within the South African Police Service, known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

The hearings earlier kicked off amid singing and toyi-toying amid a heavy police presence.

A crowd of about 80 Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) supporters had gathered outside the building before entering the complex singing.

Many in the crowd wore shirts bearing logos of Cosatu's various member unions, while some wore shirts in support of African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.

At one stage the crowd broke into Zuma's trademark "awulethu' mshini wami" song, taunting local Democratic Alliance supporters who had also turned up for the hearing.

South African Communist Party (SACP) provincial secretary Themba Mthembu called for the inclusion of the Scorpions into the South African Police, because "integration would streamline and strengthen capacity in the fight against crime".

He said the SACP agreed with most of the findings of the Khampepe Commission, with the exception of keeping the unit separate from the police.

The Democratic Alliance's KwaZulu-Natal safety and security spokesperson Radley Keyes called for the retention of the unit, saying that it had achieved much.

He said that one hearing in the province was insufficient and questioned whether the parliamentarians would take heed of the representations.

Keyes pointed to "the futility" of public representations of Matatiele where, despite residents' overwhelming support to remain in the province, the government had nevertheless supported the municipality's inclusion in the Eastern Cape.

African Christian Democratic Party representative Cyril George described the Scorpions as "the sunlight that exposed crime".

The South African Democratic Teachers Union secretary general Sipho "KK" Nkosi claimed that the Scorpions had been created by a political decision.

"Disbanding it requires a political decision. The Scorpions chose some prime cases because they were serving the interests of their own political masters," he said.

He criticised the Scorpions for highlighting their successes in the media.

"Where they have not succeeded they have been mum to the media," he said.

Parliament's portfolio committees on justice and constitutional development, and safety and security were holding the hearings, which started on Monday and were expected to finish on Friday.

Members of the public have until August 20 to hand in their written submissions against the disbanding. - Sapa