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Selebi trial leaves more questions than answers

By Sam Sole

There is little pleasure in watching Jackie Selebi unravel under cross-examination in the South Gauteng High Court.

The case is too cold for that.

Selebi is far from the swaggering figure he was when he was commissioner of police (General Cele take note) — and he could bank on the president and much of the infrastructure of state security to protect him. Then he dared the Scorpions to come and arrest him.

Well, they did — and now, after a long proxy war to prevent the trial and discredit the prosecution, his heedless arrogance is catching up with him in the lonely battleground of the witness box.

So little pleasure, but there is a sense of vindication for us at the Mail & Guardian.

Judge Meyer Joffe will ultimately decide whether Selebi is guilty or not, but the court has heard more than enough to justify the investigation we launched way back in 2005 — quite independently of the Scorpions, I might add.

But there is also a sense of frustration because the case will leave so many questions unanswered, whichever way it goes.

One is the puzzle of Selebi himself. Clearly he is not a stupid man, yet he retains a blustering kind of naivety that was evident from the start.

It led him to lie to us, needlessly — for instance when he denied he and Glenn Agliotti had been dinner guests of Brett Kebble. And when we sent him written questions ahead of our first story in May 2006, he responded on the fly, verbally, without any sense of caution about what he said.

Perhaps he believed he was untouchable. Perhaps he convinced himself his relationship with Agliotti was innocent.

But more importantly, the Scorpions investigation — and our own — began with a much larger canvas.

Kebble’s murder lifted a corner on what appeared to be a very extensive organised crime network — with tentacles in the police, in customs and revenue, into Joburg’s bouncer gangs and the drug-distribution turf they controlled, into smuggling networks that reached back into apartheid-era covert operations, into seemingly respectable business empires with multimillion-rand cash turnovers …

When he went to court at one point to try to gag the M&G, former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy said the investigation was the biggest and most complex the unit had ever undertaken.

Yet very little evidence of that remains in a case that appears to have narrowed to being about Selebi and nothing else.

Was Selebi important to the crime syndicates — or was he little more than a useful idiot, manipulated by his “friends”, like Agliotti, and his colleagues in the murkier realms of crime intelligence, like Paul Stemmet?

And what about Agliotti? How far up the food chain was he really?

Amiable fixer and conman, able to open doors and pass favours? Or a real “landlord” — a serious local underboss to some more illustrious Chinese or Italian capo — who is now set to walk away from making pay-offs to the president of Interpol and is also on course to get away with the murder — sorry, assisted suicide — of Brett Kebble?

Who is the mandrax-smuggling Mrs Chen? How was it that several drug-bust hauls were stolen out of the police pound? What impact did Selebi have on security at OR Tambo airport?

And why hasn’t this trial delivered more answers to those questions?

And if Agliotti is not Mr Big, then who is?

And how do we know the real Mr Big is not quietly circling General Cele as you read this?

Or perhaps all those new badges and epaulets are there to disguise the hooks that are already deeply embedded …


  • amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships and advocacy. On this blog, amaBhungane -- seasoned and award-winning journalists -- will penetrate the world of smoke and mirrors to bring you the story behind the story.


  1. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 24 April 2010

    It is so sad that South Africa has reached this level. I do not know of anyone who really trusts the police who appear to be rotten from the top down. I personally have had the experience of trying to deal with totally incompetent cops who hardly know how to write, never mind investigate a crime. There was a time a few years back when the stories abounded of how Selibi had his surrogates in most police stations. I have a friend who havs been told that if they cannot give the names of criminals or robbed them, then the police cannot investigate. It is time that we had a law that all criminals must leave a calling card at the scene of every crime and then, in most cases we will find that the calling card leads straight back to the cops themselves. I wonder if Selebi started this rot too.One of my associates reported a robbery at a police station and the man that took his statement was one of the robbers. Like most things in South Africa, now, crime and corruption run the country. South Africa is the only country in the world where laws are made to try to make people obey the law, and if they don’t abide by the second lawe, then a third is made and so on. Total waste of time as criminals rule.

  2. tzME tzME 24 April 2010

    God forbid! Can anything or anyone be more TERRIFYING than all this?

    Of Course !!!

    But it is NOT the scary beings that run the country and keep telling us how ‘All’s Well’ and how well they run this beautiful country of ours.


  3. V3 V3 24 April 2010

    “One is the puzzle of Selebi himself. Clearly he is not a stupid man, yet he retains a blustering kind of naivety that was evident from the start.”

    It’s no puzzle: in our culture we have a saying “those whom the gods will destroy they first make mad”.

    Think of Richard Nixon.

    If, when some low-level crooks broke into the Democrats HQ at the Watergate Hotel he had apologised and written it off to rogue hotheads the matter would have ended then & there. But, by blustering and cover-up, he turned it into the, well, Watergate scandal. And launched investigative journalism.

    The ANC seem to have learned nothing from this, except hatred of the press.

    Please keep up the good work, amaBhungane. Who needs Scorpions or cockroaches when we have “dung beetles”?

  4. Benzo Benzo 24 April 2010

    The nice news is that mr Zuma has told us that “we cannot blame apartheid any longer”.
    Looking around for a vulcano or pirates in the Indian Ocean?????

  5. AMS Haven AMS Haven 25 April 2010

    Minister Manual seems to be the one ANC politician who has seen through the fog of ANC policy – he has told teachers and students to stop blaming apartheid for the ills in education but rather look inwards at themselves to solve the diabolical results.

  6. Zi Karon Zi Karon 25 April 2010

    Contrary to the reporting by MG many criminal lawyers in the know have been rather scathing of the “mickey-mouse” prosecution and the fact that the prosecution’s case is proving flimsy (not enough to bear the scrutiny of “beyond reasonable doubt” litmus test …The report/document that Selebi brought to court was just boldly called a fabricated doc by the prosecution, realising that a substantial part of their case will unravel should they not prove that the document was fabricated or not authentic…the state bears the onus to prove that the doc is fake….The prosecution was rather juvenile in trying to rap Selebi over the knuckles for consulting with a person on the witness list…Although a technical irregularity, it was not unlawful considering the fact that be person did not testify, none of his evidence was submitted to court and the state had already closed their case….Selebi is sitting pretty even as this travesty and sham of a prosecution unravel…It scares me how state power can be used without just cause to destroy a person’s life… Kafka’s “The Trial” comes to mind!..

  7. Peter L Peter L 28 April 2010

    @Sam Sole

    You are a better man than me, mate – I get great pleasure / Schadenfreude in seeing Selebi brought down a peg or three.

    I agree with you that it is sad that the REAL issues that you alluded to are not being debated, nor apparently, pursued.
    One assumes that the reason for this is that the rot runs very deep.

    @Zi Karon
    Your criticism of the performance of the prosecution has merit, and it may well be that Selebi will not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but the fct is that based on the evidence led in court and Selebi’s own testimony, it is quite clear that he is totally unfit to run a Police station, never mind be the Political head of the Police and head of Interpol.

    Oh and would politicians that are Political heads of Departments PLEASE stop wearing the uniforms – you have not earned the right, and you look ridiculous.

  8. Paul Paul 30 April 2010

    Play it again Sam.

    The chickens are finally coming home to roost. What started at the airports, had various trails of crime including trafficking, (drugs and people) money laundering and corruption at the aiports, will end at the airports with a very simple case

    Paul O’Sullivan v Jackie Selebi & ACSA

    At this time, the whole sordid truth will be revealed.

    Don’t forget folks:- Whilst this Gangster-in-uniform was sitting on his thrown, 150,000 Safricans were murdered, 500,000 were raped and over 1m were robbed. He was driving around in a state car, collecting dirty bags of dirty money!

    He was also the worlds Top-Cop. The mafia had infiltrated Interpol!

    I cannot think of a more disgraceful display of criminal arrogance.

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