Selebi betrayed our democracy. He doesn’t deserve acclaim.
Updated: Apr 28
The honour the ANC is according Jackie Selebi in death is a moral disgrace. Selebi betrayed the trust of the South African people. He was appointed as the National Commissioner of Police to protect millions of decent, law abiding citizens from the horrors of crime. Instead of fulfilling his mandate he joined the criminals, and was sentenced to 15 years in jail for taking bribes from organized crime boss Glen Agliotti.
The ANC in its official statement says about Selebi that his legacy “will inspire generations to come to serve this nation with loyalty and steadfastness”. What can they mean? Should future generations also become criminals? Should they become policemen who work with criminal syndicates? In appalling brazenness the statement continues: “The ANC will continue to pursue the noble ideals and the society that Comrade Jackie gave his entire life to achieve.” What’s the message to our country? That the ANC, as an organisation, and the South African government by extension, condones corruption and crime?
For the ruling party of South Africa publicly to embrace and endorse a police commissioner who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for working with organised crime displays a complete lack of integrity and morality, and maybe even worse, a lack of care and compassion for the plight of millions of ordinary South Africans who have suffered so terribly at the hands of men like Agliotti and other criminals. Violent crime has inflicted horrific human suffering on this country, where more than 45 people a day are murdered, and where, every year, many thousands are raped and brutalised in all kinds of ways. Those who honour Selebi create the impression that they don’t care about the people of South Africa.
In 2007, at the height of the allegations against Jackie Selebi which had been published in the media, religious leaders called for a meeting with President Thabo Mbeki to convey to him our concerns. Present at that meeting with the President were Selebi and many other government officials, senior and junior. The meeting took place in one of the very large boardrooms in the Union Buildings, and our delegation of religious leaders – representing faith communities of millions of people across the country – called upon the President to suspend Selebi because of the allegations that were made against him, even though his guilt had not yet been legally determined. We expressed to the President that the allegations themselves were serious enough to warrant the suspension of the National Police Commissioner, pending a proper investigation. Throughout the meeting which lasted a long time – about three hours – Jackie Selebi sat slouching in his chair. His face wore an expression of disinterest, even disdain. His arrogance and nonchalance at the time were staggering. Here you had South African leaders representing constituencies of millions of people who were questioning his integrity and ability to do his job. Yet he hardly said a word throughout the meeting and his body language indicated that he clearly was unperturbed by the severity of the situation.
I will never forget what President Mbeki told us in that meeting. He challenged us. He said, “Do you not trust me?” He felt it wrong for religious leaders not to trust the President. He said that if he, as president, was aware of any serious information relating to Jackie Selebi’s criminal activity, he would certainly act upon it. Well, we did trust the president, and we trusted the South African government at the time, as did millions of other South Africans. Our trust was betrayed then, and now it has been betrayed again.
We must all speak up against this outrage. We can make a difference. Indeed – somewhat paradoxically – the Selebi case itself demonstrates the power of a free society. At the time, the robustness of the independent institutions of our young democracy were able to expose Selebi and bring him to justice. A free press, an independent prosecuting authority and an independent judiciary did their work, and the President was eventually forced to suspend Selebi. In one sense, it was a great victory for the new South Africa that our constitutionally enshrined institutions were strong enough to be able to deal with a crisis of the magnitude of a National Police Commissioner’s involvement in organised crime. At the same time, it was a deeply shameful chapter in the history of the South African government. And now after all of that, for the ANC to honour and fete Jackie Selebi – ignoring the fact that he worked with one of the most notorious figures of South Africa’s criminal underworld – displays a complete lack of moral leadership, is a slap in the face of every decent South African, and constitutes a public endorsement of corruption.
If we really love our country, we cannot remain silent in the face of such conduct, which poses clear dangers to our future. Jackie Selebi’s funeral was paid for by the ANC. Now, let the ruling party recognise its error and pay for the funerals of the thousands of murder victims whose bereaved families are in agony. Let it invest its full weight and resources into the fight against the corruption that threatens the South African dream of a better life for all.