Thabo Mbeki's tribute to Jackie Selebi


When Jackie Selebi passed away just over a week ago, the ANC and our country’s progressive movement as a whole lost an outstanding revolutionary and patriot.

Even though we knew that he had been very unwell for some time, having to undergo kidney dialysis a number of times every day, the news that he had died produced both immense shock and great sadness.

As fellow combatants in the mass movement for the liberation of our country and people and co-architects for the reconstruction of South Africa as a non-racial and non-sexist democracy, we knew what Jackie represented with regard to the realisation of both these goals.

Without having ever sought any accolades, Jackie played important roles in the Black Consciousness Movement before the banning of the BCM organisations in 1977, in the ANC underground structures, in the ANC in exile and after it was unbanned, and the state organs of democratic South Africa.

As an example of what I mean, few will know of the role that Jackie played in ensuring that many in the Black Consciousness Movement came into the ANC or accepted its leadership role after the banning of the BCM organisations.

The significance of this did not consist merely in the strengthening of the ANC. Its strategic importance lay in obviating the possibility of what would have become a disastrous fault line dividing our country’s broad movement for liberation if the ANC and the BCM had developed as two separate and competing streams of that movement.

Already by 1974, many in the Black People’s Convention, led by Steve Biko, and SASO at its headquarters in Durban, had realised that it was vitally necessary that they had to form a strategic relationship with the ANC, exactly to ensure that the liberation movement did not splinter into contending factions.

Jackie Selebi was among these. Thus it was that when the BCM organisations were banned after the murder of Steve Biko, he and others persuaded many in the BCM that there was no longer any need for them to maintain what was projected as an equal distance from both the ANC and the PAC.

It was exactly because of strategic interventions such as was made by Jackie, the late Nthato Motlana and others that it became possible to build the biggest mass movement against apartheid rule, led by the ANC, even during the years of the illegality of the ANC.

Similarly we can make bold to say that when Jackie and his peers, such as Max Sisulu and others were given the responsibility to lead the ANC Youth and Student Section when we were in exile, they helped greatly to strengthen the youth movement inside our country both organisationally and politically.

Further, as leading activists in such organisations as the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students as well as the Pan African Youth Movement and the All African Students Union, they helped to influence an entire generation of the progressive youth in Africa and throughout the world to see the task of the liberation of South and Southern Africa as their own.

They also made an enormous contribution in terms of affirming and deepening the internationalist character of our movement, and therefore an important player in the struggle for the all-round emancipation of the African people and the construction of a better world.

The 30 June - 6 July 2006 edition of ANC TODAY carried a Letter from the President entitled: “The revolutionary tasks of the Mandarins”. In this Letter, among other things, I said:

“In terms of our Constitution, this Public Administration has the responsibility, among other things, to help:

•heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

•improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and,

•build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

“Obviously, an organisation as big, varied and differentiated as our Public Administration, and charged with the task to contribute to the fulfilment of these fundamentally important tasks, requires a skilled, educated and dedicated leadership cadre.

“It needs at its head its own 'Mandarins' - the skilled managerial leadership without which it cannot function as one coherent machine, loyal to the Public Administration principles specified in our Constitution - as well as the overall leadership of the national democratic revolution.”

The democratic government identified Jackie as one of these Mandarins, and gave him challenging responsibilities as Director General of the then Department of Foreign Affairs and later, the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service.

In this regard I would like to say that I do not recall any occasion when any of the Ministers under whom he served, or anybody else in Government, complained that he was failing in his duties.

Rather, I am certain that none of the annual reports submitted by the Ministers to the Public Service Commission ever indicated that he had acted in a manner inconsistent with his constitutional, statutory or departmental obligations, all of which required of our Mandarins that they should serve as principal architects of the institutions of our new democratic state.

Indeed, even as our courts found him guilty of corruption, they acquitted him on the charge that he had acted to defeat the ends of justice, of which he would have been guilty if he had acted to frustrate his own arrest and prosecution.

I am certain that many throughout our country are deeply concerned that not all is well with both the organisation which Jackie served faithfully for many decades, the ANC, and the democratic state he sought to build as a Member of Parliament, a diplomat and an Accounting Officer in our National Departments.

It is exactly these circumstances which have made so many of us to mourn the untimely departure of Jackie Selebi. This is because we fondly imagine that if he were with us, in good health and with no other encumbrance, being the principled revolutionary he was, he would have made an important contribution in terms of helping both his movement and country to correct whatever might have gone or is going wrong.

Truly he belonged among those outstanding patriots about whom we can say – akakh’ ofana naye!

However, despite everything I have said, the fact of the matter is that as we bury him today, Jackie will take with him into his final resting place the immense blemish that our courts had found him guilty of the serious crime of corruption and sentenced him to many years in prison.

During the period leading up to his prosecution some in our country made repeated calls that I as President of the Republic should suspend Jackie from his post as National Commissioner of the SAPS because of allegations that were made that he had engaged in acts of corruption.

I resisted these calls stating that I would do this when I had concrete information which strongly suggested that the National Commissioner had acted as alleged, and argued then that nobody had given me such information.

For this reason some in our country charged that I was protecting Jackie from prosecution because he was my friend, and that indeed I had lied when I said nobody had given me concrete information according to which, prima facie, Jackie had a case to answer.

I have never responded publicly to these false accusations and will not abuse the solemn occasion of Jackie’s funeral to do this. The time will come when I will comment fully on all the controversial matters which attached to his arrest and prosecution.

However I would like to take this opportunity to say this that, first, it was precisely because of the intervention of the Presidency that the Scorpions were able to carry out their investigative work concerning Jackie, especially as this related to access to SAPS documents.

Secondly, we did not suspend the then National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Vusi Pikoli, to stop him arresting and prosecuting Jackie. The matter at issue had to do with the absolute imperative falling on the shoulders of the Head of Government to ensure proper cooperation between the relevant organs of state.

Thus, indeed, when the then acting NDPP, Mr Mokotedi Mpshe, informed me that he had a warrant to arrest the National Commissioner, I did not contest this.

We agreed about when he would effect this arrest. This was because as the appointing authority of the National Commissioner of the SAPS, I needed time to talk to the SAPS leadership and to appoint an acting National Commissioner, an obligation which Mr Mpshe fully understood and accepted.

On June 14, 2013, at least one of our newspapers carried an article under the heading – “Agliotti: It was me or Selebi.”

The newspaper quoted Mr Glenn Agliotti as having said:

“In fact, when the Scorpions took me in the foyer of my own house, the officer said ‘I’m arresting (you) for the murder of Brett Kebble’ and then said ‘but if you give up (then top cop Jackie) Selebi, we’ll give you a section 204 (immunity)’. I asked ‘if I do, who are you going to arrest for killing Kebble then?’.”

“That’s how obvious the whole plot was. It was never about me, it was never about Kebble, it was about a feud between one law enforcement agency wanting to bring down the most powerful policeman in Africa.”

I was very pleased when I read in our media last July that the National Prosecuting Authority was conducting an internal investigation relating to the prosecution of our former National Commissioner, the late Jackie Selebi whom we bury today.

It is my fervent hope that the NPA does indeed carry out an honest and thorough investigation into this matter and not bury it simply because Jackie Selebi will have been buried.

I am certain that Jackie’s memory lives on in the hearts and minds of his dear wife, Anne, their children and the rest of the Selebi family, as it does among the countless numbers of those who engaged in struggle side-by-side with him to liberate our country and build a new society.

Because we know so much about what he did, which was noble and good, and which served the interests of the people of South Africa; because we know so much about his honesty, his attachment to principle and his selflessness, having worked in close proximity to him for many decades; because so many of us had grown so fond of him because of who and what he was, neither his family nor the rest of us remember Jackie as the villain that some have claimed he was, but as a hero.

Jackie has died, but the question lingers on and will not die – who was right and who was wrong?

Perhaps the NPA will help all of us to answer this question.

It is with great sadness that I convey Zanele’s and my heartfelt condolences to his dear wife and our sister, Anne, the children and the rest of the Selebi family.

Akakh’ ofana naye!

Rest in peace dear friend and patriot.