Opinion

It's our job, finish and klaar

Staff Reporter

Imagine how many South Africans could have been spared falling victim to violent crime had the police not been rotting, like a fish, from the head.

“It leaves me cold.”—Jimmy Kruger, police minister, on the 1977 death of Steve Biko

“It will only be on the basis of concrete evidence that we will be able to do anything.”—Charles Nqakula, police minister, on calls for Jackie Selebi to be suspended following the 2006 arrest of his friend Glenn Agliotti for Brett Kebble’s murder

When it comes to sheer callousness, Jimmy Kruger still takes the crown. But do not underestimate the damage done by Charles Nqakula and his then principal, Thabo Mbeki, in their determined refusal to act while evidence mounted that the fight against crime had been compromised by the man charged to lead it.

One does not act lightly against anyone based on mere allegation. But there comes a time when allegations are so credible that the cautionary principle comes into play: better act than not in view of the scale of the consequences should they be true.

Well, Nqakula and Mbeki chose not to suspend Jackie Selebi in 2006 in spite of convincing evidence he had consorted with the mafia. It took more than a year more for that to happen. Imagine how many South Africans could have been spared falling victim to violent crime had the police not been rotting, like a fish, from the head.

Now, the High Court has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt the core of what the Mail & Guardian has been alleging so loudly since May 2006 about our then police chief. But neither we nor others in the media who contributed to the story can take credit for the NPA’s proficient prosecution, or for the ultimately successful official investigation, tinged as it was with questionable decisions, including the easy indemnities offered to a range of crooks, even killers.

What we can take credit for, however, is the near-certainty that had we not helped piece together the puzzle of Selebi’s criminal liaisons—and kept it in the public eye—the balance of forces might well have tipped the other way. Nqakula and Mbeki might have had the final say and Selebi might have survived to protect criminals for another day.

As the media, that is our democratic role. And let it be a lesson for those in power: treat us with healthy scepticism if you like, but brush off our allegations too lightly and you ignore the contribution of an important partner in our country’s democratic project. It is opportunistic for those who have been at the receiving end of intense media scrutiny simply to call for the establishment of a media tribunal when there are incidents such as that of former Cape Argus journalist Ashley Smith confessing to taking bribes from politicians.

Such incidents are regrettable, weaken our case and indeed warrant that each media house examine its ethics and ensure that our newsrooms are not war rooms for political-party factions or corrupt individuals. But, by and large, the media has doggedly insisted on probing where our politicians and some government investigative institutions have chosen to look the other way.

Photo-op education
Just how serious is this government about education? President Jacob Zuma finally got around this week to confirming a date and a venue for his much-touted World Cup-related summit—which vast, and vastly expensive, Fifa-linked hype has kept reminding us will focus world attention on the 72-million children worldwide who are out of school.

How much attention will be given to such gross education inequity is a question prompted by Zuma’s offhand dedication of two hours of his time to attend to this niggling matter.

That is bad enough. Obliterating beyond recuperation his pretence of good intentions is his choice of the day: this Sunday, July 11. Anyone recall what else is happening in South Africa on that day?

Zuma declared months ago that the legacy of the 2010 tournament should be access to education. Local civil-society organisations and trade unions, as well as international bodies such as Unesco and the NGO 1Goal, whose co-chairperson is Fifa president Sepp Blatter, backed Zuma’s call.

But Zuma’s attention to his summit since the football kicked off has largely been confined to kissing Miss South Africa, Nicole Flint, in the second week of the tournament. Ms Flint’s “passion” for education was widely reported, as was Zuma’s spontaneous invitation to her to attend the summit. Shortly before that, the presidency told the Mail & Guardian the summit would be held on July 7. It could not confirm who had been invited, who had accepted, or where it would be held.

Then, on Tuesday night this week, the presidency told us the summit would be held on the day of the World Cup final, at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, from 2pm to 4pm. But it could not say who would attend. By Thursday morning, this left Miss South Africa as the only publicly revealed invited guest.

This is in the same week as Zuma’s minister of basic education offhandedly dismissed the education system the government has foisted upon millions of children since 1997 as “that 1990s thing”.

Does this government’s commitment to education extend beyond photo opportunities?

This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.

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