Lessons as the sun sets on Selebi

2011-12-03 11:06

Sun City, or the Johannesburg Prison, is not a place a 61-year-old veteran of the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa should call home.

In the case of Jacob Sello Selebi, this is unfortunately the reality for a man who spent the larger part of his adult life outside of the borders of his country of birth, protesting against a fundamentally unjust and inhuman system.

When the sun sets over the mine dumps of Jozi tonight, Selebi should have been issued with ­orange robes, a prison number and a small bed in possibly an overcrowded prison cell.

Long gone are the days of the freedom fighter and the passionate, albeit abrasive, police chief who travelled the world pursuing justice and a safer world for all.

That is the cruel, ugly prize of corruption.

By accepting bribes from a known underworld figure and being lured into a world of flashy clothes and cappuccinos he couldn’t afford, Selebi not only failed his family and friends but an ­entire generation of freedom fighters who fought for a country free of injustice, oppression and crime.

Selebi’s final fall came in a week during which the frailness of South Africa’s criminal justice ­system was exposed to the bone. In five long days, the heads of the National Intelligence ­Agency, Crime Intelligence unit, National ­Prosecuting Authority and Special Investigating Unit were either fired, put on early retirement, frog-marched out of their offices or called ­incompetent by the country’s courts.

Only a few weeks ago, Selebi’s successor Bheki Cele was suspended after being implicated in dodgy leasing deals. This week in Parliament, ­Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa had to explain how the police wasted millions on paying for early retirements that were not properly motivated.

We’ve seen this movie before: it was 2007 and the battle for the soul of the ANC was reaching a climax. We are here again and sadly the country’s institutions that should guard our stability, safety and basic freedoms are at the heart of another bitter and gruelling battle.

More heart-breaking than Selebi’s enrolment at Sun City would be if the ANC learnt nothing from this episode.

Politically pliable people, not skilled professionals with integrity, are still being appointed to key security positions; the police service has not been out of crisis mode since Selebi left the building; the spy agencies are
embroiled in another round of dirty tricks; and questions of selective investigations and prosecution are as apt today as they were in 2007.

These are the issues the ANC should address to avoid another Selebi case.

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