Mourners arrived in their numbers at the Dutch Reformed Church in Moreleta Park, Pretoria East on Saturday singing in unison. Some carried wreathes of flowers along with personal messages that were laid around the coffin of the late Jackie Selebi who passed away last week after a long illness. A large photograph of Selebi, bearing a kind smile and bright eyes, was displayed as a reminder of happier days.
“The golden heart has stopped beating but you did not go alone, a part of us went with you … God broke our hearts to prove he only takes the best,” his niece Mandu Selebi said during her eulogy.
The sizable crowd wore subdued tones but there were pops of the ANC’s green and yellow – the ruling party also paid for the funeral. In attendance were a number of political heavyweights, including former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, former National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and former police commissioner Bheki Cele.
“He was selfless and worked very hard for us to get where we are today,” said Peters. “Even in hospital, in his sick bed, he always spoke about the unity of the ANC.”
Tributes focused on Selebi’s contribution to the struggle for liberation. He was described as a warrior, a pillar of strength and a proud man who was passionate about education – having been a teacher himself. He was a witty man who made everyone laugh, a fan of Miles Davis and Andrea Bocelli and his good dress sense was remarked on by many speaking from the podium. “He was larger than life,” remarked Mandu Selebi.
Selebi’s history, as recalled by his friends and family, spanned from his humble beginnings as a teacher to becoming head of the ANC youth, being appointed South Africa’s representative to the United Nations then as national police commissioner and head of Interpol.
‘Preying on his legacy’
Veteran youth leader and friend, Welile Nhlapo, remarked that the challenges faced by Selebi and those close to him were not over. “We have to defend him from those who were hell-bent on distorting and preying on his legacy as they did when he was alive.”
In 2010 Selebi was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for accepting bribes from convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti. Selebi collapsed at his home in 2011 after his final court appearance and was released on medical parole in 2012 after serving 229 days of his sentence.
Nhlapo called on those who questioned the validity of Selebi’s medical parole to confess that they were wrong. Failing to do so would mean, Nhlapo said, “you regard yourself as a special species who never gets things wrong. Maybe you are also smoking a special blend of Nyaope”.
Nhlapo also delivered former president Thabo Mbeki’s written tribute. In it he described Selebi’s “honesty and attachment to principle” but said he would take with him in death “the immense blemish” of having been found guilty of corruption in South African courts.
Mbeki was the one who appointed Selebi as national police commissioner and was accused of protecting him when allegations of corruption transpired.
“Some people think I was protecting him from prosecution. I have never responded publicly to these false accusations and I will not use this solemn occasion to do so,” Mbeki said but noted that there would come a time when he would discuss the controversial arrest and conviction. “Neither his family nor the rest of us remember Jackie as a villain, like some suggest he was, but as a hero.”
‘True heart of the ANC’
ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte went further, saying “whatever is said publicly in the media about Jackie does not penetrate the true heart of the ANC”.
Duarte urged the National Prosecuting Authority to speed up its commitment to investigating the Selebi case. “The truth will set Jackie free and it will set the country free,” she said.
Ronald Noble, former secretary general of Interpol, said Selebi was known as a leader committed to helping people everywhere and “a true inspiration”. Selebi was the first president from an African nation in Interpol’s history.
Noble said Selebi deserved both recognition for his contribution to Interpol and forgiveness for his crime for which he had already paid the price. Speakers reflected on Selebi’s final days.
One of Selebi’s nieces, who had last seen her uncle on January 16, said: “He was so helpless but peaceful, responding using only his eyes filled with tears. I could see he was in pain.”
A written tribute from Selebi’s wife Anne was read out on her behalf. In it, she said her husband had now left a huge void in her life. “My road ahead without you is going to be difficult. My heart and soul is hurting,” she said. “You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race. May your soul rest in eternal peace.”