Jackie Selebi: A spectacular fall from grace

2015-01-23 12:31
Former police chief Jackie Selebi. (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

Former police chief Jackie Selebi. (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - The long saga of trials, prison and parole has ended for disgraced former police chief Jackie Selebi, who died after a long illness on Friday morning.

Selebi would have turned 65 on 7 March.

African National Congress spokesperson Zizi Kodwa confirmed his death to Sapa in an SMS, without giving details. The department of correctional services was expected to release a statement later in the morning.

His lawyer, Wynanda Coetzee, confirmed his death to Sapa.

The former head of Interpol started serving a 15-year jail sentence in 2011, after being found guilty of corruption in 2010.

He was released on medical parole from Pretoria Central Prison after serving less than a year of his sentence.

It was an end that Selebi could never have envisioned for himself, least not back in the post-apartheid 1990s, when his star was ascending rapidly.


Born in Johannesburg in 1950, Selebi was married to Anne and had two children.

In the apartheid-era 1980s, he served in Budapest, Hungary, as a representative of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

In 1987, he was elected head of the ANC Youth League and was a member of the party's national executive committee.

In 1991, as the end of apartheid seemed nigh, Selebi became responsible for the repatriation of ANC exiles.

After the first democratic elections in 1994, he was elected to Parliament.

His stature grew further after he left, in 1995, to serve as the South African permanent representative at the United Nations in Geneva.

Three years later, he was presented with the International Service for Human Rights Award for his chairing of the 54th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and for the way he presided over a 1997 diplomatic conference on anti-personnel mines in Oslo.

In 1999, Selebi returned to South Africa and took up the post of foreign affairs director-general.

With his work in foreign relations considered sterling, a very different future to the one that panned out seemed possible.

Even the spokesperson for the now defunct opposition New National Party said at the time that Selebi could easily have become one of the best foreign affairs ministers the country had ever had.

Fall from grace

It is believed to be his strong performance in this department that prompted former president Thabo Mbeki to ask him to take over the role of police commissioner, despite his having no background in law enforcement.

He stepped into the post in 2000. Two years later, he was made vice president of Interpol's African region. In 2004, he was elected president of Interpol.

His fall from grace came swiftly. On 10 September 2007, the National Prosecuting Authority issued a warrant of arrest for Selebi for corruption, fraud, racketeering, and defeating the ends if justice.

Within months, Mbeki placed him on an "extended leave of absence", essentially a suspension, and he resigned his Interpol position.

On 10 November 2006, he held up his hands at a press conference and remarked: "These hands are clean. I'm not involved in any criminality."

The warning signs had been around for a while.

'Low moral fibre'

In 2007, Selebi was criticised for responding to concern about South Africa's rising crime rate with: "What's all the fuss about crime?"

But it was his friendship with convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti that brought about his downfall. In a three-month trial in mid-2010, nearly two years after charges were first laid against him, Selebi was found guilty of corruption and having received money from Agliotti.

Presiding Judge Meyer Joffe described Selebi as a man of "low moral fibre" and someone who could not be relied on.

He said prosecutors had proven that Selebi received at least R120 000 from Agliotti.

Ahead of his trial, Selebi told journalists that claims he was corrupt were "garbage, total and unadulterated garbage".

He famously remarked of Agliotti that "he is my friend, finish and klaar".

Agliotti testified during the trial that he had handed him envelopes stuffed with cash and bought handbags for Selebi's wife.


On 3 August 2010, Joffe sentenced Selebi to 15 years in prison.

An appeal against this sentence delayed his arrival at the gates of Pretoria Central Prison until 5 December 2011, three days after the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed his bid to have the conviction set aside.

The salt-and-pepper haired Selebi, who was reportedly watching the proceedings on television at home at the time, apparently collapsed when he heard the news.

A week after his arrival at Pretoria Central he was taken to the city's Steve Biko Hospital, where Coetzee described his condition as "quite serious". She said her client's illness "will not get better".

Correctional services spokesperson Sibongile Khumalo said at the time that Selebi was a sick man who needed to undergo tests, but did not divulge any details.

- Family and friends of Jackie Selebi are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at Remembered.co.za.

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