Tragically, it’s finish and klaar for Selebi

2010-07-03 11:59

Former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi walked down the court’s stairs after his conviction on corruption charges on Friday.

He looked outside, saw the waiting photographers and turned back in.

He slumped down on a wooden court bench.

It was a tragic image that should make all of us cry.

Here was a fallen hero, an isolated freedom fighter, all his dreams and our hopes squashed by greed and by arrogance.

Throughout his trial, Selebi cut a lonely figure, abandoned and alienated from the political movement that was his life.
Selebi’s conviction provides a profound moment for national reflection.

It is a personal and political cautionary tale.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Selebi contained and symbolised every ¬democratic dream.

A Soweto schoolteacher in the 1970s, Selebi went into exile.

He made a name as an articulate representative of the African National Congress across the world, and particularly at the United Nations, where he served as permanent representative in Geneva.

Selebi, a rights practitioner, negotiated complex anti-landmine treaties and returned home a hero.

He was the first post-apartheid director-general of foreign affairs and helped successfully shape our geopolitics and place in the world.

So, when former president Thabo Mbeki called him into service to fight crime, we all proudly adopted him as the man who would secure national safety for us.

After all, he had played such a key role in helping to draft the protocols of global security.

So, it was with horror that the country first received news that he was canoodling with the underworld, making friends with known mafiosi, and eventually falling prey to their sweet tongues and deep pockets.

Of course, Selebi was not the hapless victim.

His early controversies as national police commissioner reveal that he possessed an arrogant streak that may have made him feel infallible – that the rules that apply to other civil servants did not apply to him.

What are these rules? The simplest is that the underworld is always in business for itself.

While cops may well infiltrate and use its ¬denizens to gain information, no leader of the police should call a mafioso a friend.

The second is that the rule of law must be allowed to take its course.

This case has been profoundly politicised by Mbeki and then by Jacob Zuma, both of whom made efforts to ¬ensure it was never successfully prosecuted.

Prosecutors must be allowed to do their work with independence and without fear or favour. Corruption is against the rules and it must never be allowed to pay off.

In the end, Selebi sacrificed a reputation that initially couldn’t be measured in gold for a few pieces of silver.

May he be the last leader to do this, but may he not be the last leader to be prosecuted if the lessons are not learnt.

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