Jackie Selebi dies aged 64 after long illness

Former police commissioner Jackie Selebi has died in a Pretoria Hospital, a former representative confirmed to the Mail & Guardian on Friday. Selebi was 64.

ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe also confirmed Selebi’s death after a long illness.

Selebi was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on August 3 2010 for taking bribes from convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti. He collapsed at his house in 2011 after his final appeal failed.

He was released on medical parole in 2012 after serving only 229 days of his prison sentence.

At the time of his release the correctional services department stated that Selebi had “a medical condition which is terminal, chronic, progressive and has deteriorated or reached an irreversible state”, and it was reported that he had end-stage renal disease brought on by diabetes, for which he was receiving dialysis.

Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said at the time that Selebi was sent home because his department had limited capacity to provide care for terminally ill patients.

Long history with the ANC
Born Jacob Sello Selebi in Soweto in 1950, he was a struggle stalwart, then a top diplomat, and ultimately the top cop in both South African and the world, as head of Interpol – but died a convicted criminal best known for the controversy of his medical parole.

After being diagnosed as terminally ill and released on compassionate grounds, Selebi was photographed shopping in Pretoria, seemingly healthy, leading to questions about a “miraculous recovery”.

“The only time it gets difficult is when you get people who give you an impression that they can’t wait for you to die,” Selebi told City Press in the wake of the furore. “They don’t say it, but from what they do, you get an impression that these people just can’t wait that I die and if they could speed it up, they would do it.”

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe on Friday said Selebi should be remembered for his work, not his mistakes. “We remember him as a firm contributor to our struggle for freedom. Jackie Selebi never had a youth, he spent his youth in exile and was instrumental in the formation of SAYCO (the South African Youth Congress) while in exile, and when the youth league was relaunched internally, he handled the handover peacefully.”

Asking why Selebi did not die within weeks of his release on parole was “a sign of hatred” Mantashe said, adding that Selebi suffered personally from antipathy towards the ANC as an organisation. “In his later life he was one of the people who was used as a symbol of the attack on the ANC and ongoing efforts to delegitimise it.”

Acknowledge his contribution
Vusi Pikoli, the prosecutor ultimately responsible for Selebi being charged – and whose removal as head of the National Prosecuting Authority was linked to the Selebi case – on Friday expressed his condolences to the Selebi family.

“I think we should acknowledge the contribution that he has made to our struggle for liberation and learn from the mistakes that he made that led to his arrest and conviction for fraud.”

Paul O’Sullivan, whose dogged investigations into Selebi’s links with underworld figures was largely responsible for the police commissioner’s downfall, said it was inevitable that his crimes would overshadow the rest of his life.

“He corrupted his own legacy, and I think he’ll be remembered for what he did, not the good things,” said O’Sullivan. “Unfortunately in the human race people are remembered for the bad things they do. I can’t imagine for the life of me that any of the many victims of crime in South Africa are jumping up and down with joy, but on the other side of the coin he was handed a great opportunity to help our country move forward and he failed in that duty.”

Selebi was elected leader of the ANC Youth League in 1987, while in exile in Zambia, and served on the party’s national executive committee from that year. He was an MP in the first post-1994 Parliament, and served as ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, as well as a permanent representative to the UN, between 1995 and 1998.

Between 1998 and 1999 he was the director general of the then department of foreign affairs.

Selebi became national police commissioner in 2000. He was appointed the head of Interpol’s African region in 2002, and became the organisation’s president in 2004.

A warrant for Selebi’s arrest, on charges including fraud and corruption, was first issued in September 2007. In January 2008 then president Thabo Mbeki, who had previously fiercely defended Selebi, forced him to take an “extended leave of absence”. Selebi also resigned from his Interpol post.

Selebi went on trial only in April 2010. By early July of that year he was convicted, and by August he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

His final appeal was rejected in December 2011 and he was ordered to report to prison. He served just over seven months, before his release in July 2012.

The ANC expressed sadness at Selebi’s death, describing him as a “giant and leader of our people”.

“Comrade Selebi has been a long standing member of the African National Congress and the ANCYL,” spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said in a statement. “As we close the chapter of his life, we are opening the chapter of his legacy which will inspire generations to come to serve this nation with loyalty and steadfastness.” 

The party sent its condolences to Selebi’s family.

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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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