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Boeke | Books > Resensies | Reviews > English

A terrible farce, a tragic end: finish en klaar

Francois Verster - 2011-04-06

Untitled Document

Title: Finish & Klaar: Selebi’s Fall from Interpol to the Underworld
Author: Adriaan Basson
ISBN: 9780624049395
Price: R180.00

“Finish en klaar” has become a well-known phrase since the demise of Jackie Selebi. For instance, the alleged friendship between Mo Shaik and Cyril Beeka is compared with that of Selebi and his “own” (alleged) gangster, Glenn Agliotti. What will come of the Shaik-Beeka association, time will tell. In the case of Selebi, the outcome is common knowledge. And this is what the book is about: the tragic tale of the rise and fall of Jackie Selebi, who emerged from relative obscurity to Top Cop. And Top Criminal to boot: the title of the book could well have been “Complicity and duplicity, a case of blatant corruption of the highest order”.

In the foreword, acclaimed newspaper editor Ferial Haffajee makes some profound statements. One is that her initial response to the accusations against Selebi was: “Not Jackie”, as was that of another stalwart of press freedom and transparency, Mondli Makhanya, of Zapiro-Zuma fame. Their solidarity with struggle comrades is understandable, but given the evidence provided in this book of Selebi being an arrogant showman with dubious credentials as a crime-fighting hero, one may assume that the two journalists did not know Selebi very well. While Selebi may have been a firebrand and an example of defiance to the (black) youth of yesteryear, the signs of egomania were (apparently?) always evident.

Judge Meyer Joffe, who would eventually make Selebi’s demise official, remarked in 2010, “We have a person who thought he was untouchable.”

Adriaan Basson starts chapter one (of fifteen; 328 pages) with a cartoon by Zapiro (lambasting Selebi as president of Interpol, “someone with first-hand experience of bribery and corruption”), followed by a quote by Selebi himself: “Crime is a global phenomenon, affecting every country in the world, and Africa is now in the privileged position of having one of its own at the helm of international crime fighting.” This quote seems more than ludicrous now, even surreal: Selebi , the man eventually labelled as an embarrassment to the witness box, to the office he occupied, to those who appointed him, to the South African Police Service and to the “right thinking citizens of this country”, this same man also said, “One of the things that I will never do is to embarrass the president [...] if there is one man I will not disappoint, it is that one.”

So what caused him to do exactly this “thing?”

In sharp contrast with what some struggle comrades may have thought of him, Jackie Selebi is portrayed by the author as someone who had always loved the good life, to manifestly live above his means. As a young man he was described as “a maverick, troublemaker teacher who was known for his love of mafia novels”. One former student remembered that Selebi’s fellow teachers thought of him as a bad influence on impressionable young minds. “But we thought he was great.”

Even as a student Selebi stole stationary and books from a bookstore he worked for, to resell this contraband in a dark passage behind the store (p 10). Over the years he was described as “arrogant, abrasive, tactless and rude”. Yet some people did not recognise such qualities in him, or chose to ignore it. After he went into exile, he seemed to impress as a leader, even became the ANC Youth leader (likened to Julius Malema today), and in 1980 Selebi (then in his early thirties) became the youngest member of the national executive committee of the ANC.

Clearly, he showed strength in adversity and others rallied around him. Former Mail & Guardian editor Howard Barrell said, “[Selebi] could lead huge and cumbersome structures [...] people were really wowed by him. He was extremely charming and very clever.” This provides a clue as to why so many people was fooled, it seems.

In 1991 Selebi and his family returned to South Africa. In 1995 he was appointed South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations to replace Allan Boesak, ironically because Boesak was accused of fraud!

The author maintains that Selebi was very reluctant to accept the post of police commissioner, but after his stint at the UN and foreign affairs, he was becoming “civil servant number one”. In 1999 he became our first black top cop. After meeting one Glenn Aglioti about seven years earlier ...

In 2004 Selebi received his first bribe, of R10 000. From Agliotti, barely three months after becoming president of Interpol. And then, a year later, Brett Kebble was killed: the end was in sight – for both Selebi and Agliotti, even if it would take a decade for Selebi to be finally convicted of corruption. Basson skilfully wove a fascinating tale in which the murder of Kebble is an eye-opener: an idiot’s guide to assassination planned by morons and “performed” by imbeciles.

And somewhere in the mix was the enigmatic Irishman Paul O’sullivan. The wrong man to trample on, Selebi would discover.

The personal history of Jackie Selebi per se may not interest many people, but much can be learned from his example – a negative example of how not to be a leader, of how not to serve your country, of how not to break down perceptions of African capabilities. For some reason Selebi’s disgraceful conduct reminds me of fallen cricket idol Hansie Cronjé. Although Cronjé did not directly cause harm to his compatriots by way of criminal activities (mostly avarice and dishonesty in his case), certain embedded preconceptions of Afrikaners were strengthened by his “evidence” thereof.

Selebi, however, was no sports icon, but someone who sold out an entire nation, not just a certain already disparaged minority culture. This nation, threatened by a crime tsunami. Instead of erecting barricades against this dangerous phenomenon, he helped bulldoze the cracking bulwark.

Both men failed many people, miserably, but I wonder if Selebi’s arrogance and the immense setback his selfish acts caused have not, ironically, been minimised (almost accepted) by the paternalistic post-colonial preconceptions that are still alive locally and abroad. This is, if not the greatest tragedy of the Jackie Selebi story, at least the most comprehensive.

The author also offers insights into the demise not only of The Embarrassment, but also of one of the best ideas to be spawned in the post-1994 era regarding the battle against crime: the ill-fated Scorpions. For South Africa, their inexplicable end may be an even greater tragedy.

The messy skulduggery involving the seemingly blundering Agliotti provides the comic relief – a farcical character in an almost Shakespearian gig. Agliotti: “Jackie, Chief, or Jacks, that’s what I called him.” Followed by another batch of lies. Arrogant fluster right to the end. And Selebi: “I will never be arrested. If there is a warrant for me I will stand on the 10th floor of the Sandton Towers so the Scorpions can arrest me.” Talk about a towering ego. Then defence council Jaap Celliers, April 2010: “My Lord, I do not think I will overstate it if I submit ... that it must be the worst bunch of people whose statements ever appeared in a single police docket that can exist.”

In retrospect, Agliotti and his “cash cop” have one thing in common: self-love and greed. In his description of Selebi’s last exit from court, Basson ends the narrative (there is also a handy timeline, endnotes and index) with a final wry witticism: “South Africa’s age of innocence was over, finish and klaar.”

A well-researched, well-written and insightful book, presented with some flair – I appreciated the use of cartoons (as pictorial satire still unrivalled) and the excellent quotes as opening salvos for some chapters. I believe on that account I have made my point. However, allow me a last salvo form Selebi’s (smoking) gun: “This is our country – we will not allow any criminal to take control of it” – his inaugural speech as commissioner, 13 January 2000.

A good read, for R180. Congratulations to Basson and Tafelberg.