Selebi: A dead legacy

2015-01-25 15:00

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When I first heard that Jackie Selebi had died, I was shocked.

“So it was true, he was ill,” I said to myself.

Then I was shocked at just how cynical I’ve become.

I met Uncle Jackie as an eight-year-old in Lusaka, Zambia. He made me laugh.

It wasn’t anything he said. It was just by being. His name, for one thing. I often wondered why he had a girl’s name.

It was his girth that was always the subject of my mirth. He was the largest man I had ever seen. I sniggered every time I saw him, and teased him behind his back.

One day an uncle reprimanded me for it. He sat me down and told me how this mammoth man had been electrocuted “by the boers”. On his genitalia. They tortured him night and day, but he never broke.

After this his hormones were messed up – and his weight was a testament to his resilience. He never wavered. He was a hero. That’s how I saw him from that day on.

I never made a disparaging remark about the man again, even when he fell from grace.

What was there to say? All my initial denials were washed away by mounting evidence and his own statement defending his crooked friend. But I couldn’t condemn him. He was family. I mean, he was the best of what I’d grown up wanting to be: a heroic, selfless comrade.

Inside, I was silently angry, like so many South Africans are now: angry in the same way black people were angry at Michael Jackson when we found out that he was molesting children. Not only did Jackson reject his blackness, even while doing the best representation of black excellence; now he was showing us up to be the sordid, callow race as the one painted by white people.

Uncle Jackie Selebi did the same for blackness here. And “the movement”. And the idealism of it all. The fall of Uncle Jackie was one of a series of seminal moments when the fallibility of the glorious ANC and all it stood for was laid bare.

I know that the anger and eventual sadness I feel is echoed by many other believers all over the country. We all deal with it differently. The old folks are in denial, lying about the degree in which my other uncles are following in Jackie’s footsteps.

Many of them will die with as much ambiguity in their legacy. The youngsters are angry, and burning things down from Soweto to Parliament.

It all comes from the same place. How do our best, who went through hell for us, turn around and sell us out ... for peanuts?

How do you withstand torture for days, then throw it all away for a pair of shoes. Is this the price of freedom?

And how the hell can we claim our glory back?

As we lay Uncle Jackie to rest, I may be the petulant child who doesn’t participate or the cynical adult whose presence just holds up a façade.

But I won’t be mourning. I’ve been mourning the death of Uncle Jackie and everything he once represented for years.

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