There’s no doubt that crime is a blot on South Africa’s achievements since the dawn of democracy in 1994. It is a matter that affects all South Africans, irrespective of where they live and who they are. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the trial and subsequent conviction Jackie Selebi, former national police commissioner and ex-president of Interpol, would draw a great deal of attention.
As reported by Bloomberg:
Judge Meyer Joffe found Selebi, a former president of Interpol, received hundreds of thousands of rand in payments between 2000 and 2005 from three businessmen, including murder suspect Glen Agliotti, that “made no legitimate business sense” and were intended as bribes. Selebi was also accused of having links to a syndicate that trafficked people, drugs and stolen goods, according to the charge sheet.
The conviction ended an investigation of almost 5 years by the now disbanded, elite crime fighting squad in South Africa known as the Scorpions. South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki was accused by some of dragging his feet throughout the process. It would ultimately take a further 2 years and a lot of political fallout before Mbeki was prepared to formally charge his top cop. This prompted many to ask why South Africa’s National Police Commissioner was being protected by his president.
The saga elicited many opinions and even further questions from all corners of South Africa. South Africa’s opposition parties also hailed the conviction as a positive development. The official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance highlighted however:
The outcome of the Jackie Selebi corruption case is certainly a positive development, because it demonstrates that not all senior ANC politicians are above the law. However, the case must in retrospect serve to highlight two particular issues: firstly, the essential role that was played by the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions), which was controversially disbanded last year, in instigating investigations of politicians; secondly, the chronic failure of the ANC's policy of cadre deployment.
Some, like Ray Hartley are skeptical:
Selebi’s conviction is, on the face of it, strong evidence that the criminal justice system is once more showing its steel when it comes to crimes by senior political figures.
But it is not quite so simple. Selebi is yesterday’s man, a Thabo Mbeki appointment who no longer enjoys the political protection offered by those in high office in government and the ANC.
Pierre de Vos also sheds light on other matters arising from this trial:
The conviction must place a question mark over the actions of former President Thabo Mbeki, who appointed Selebi, at first took steps aimed at protecting Selebi and claimed that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Selebi even after Mbeki was briefed by the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) about the evidence against the former top cop.
Why was Mbeki so adamant that Selebi should not be arrested? Why did Mbeki ask us to trust him on Selebi and why did he maintain – in the face of overwhelming evidence provided to him – that there was no evidence to suggest that Selebi was a crook? Why did he appoint this guy in the first place? Does it not show- at the very least – a spectacular lack of judgment on the part of our former President?
The Selebi conviction is another nail in the coffin of Thabo Mbeki's credibility
The most pressing issue facing this country today in the wake of the Selebi trial and his conviction on corruption charges is this: who will follow him down to jail? Even more pressing is this: who will bring that political bigwig to trial?
Perhaps that is the most pressing issue now. South Africa's fledling democracy is at risk of failing if the issue of corruption is not addressed. The country's justice system has shown that it can work if there is political will. Pierre de Vos once again asserts:
Political will is key to fighting corruption. If we see more high profile cases of private and public corruption brought to court, we will know the Zuma administration is serious about stamping out corruption. If we do not, we will know that it is rotten to the core.