Selebi: The Secret Agenda
since President Thabo Mbeki suspended National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi
Pikoli last year, speculation has been that he did so to protect his close ally, National Police Commissioner Jackie
Selebi had been facing widespread calls to resign when his friend, businessman Glen Agliotti, was charged with killing mining tycoon Brett Kebble.
At the time of Pikoli's suspension, which Mbeki said was due to an "irretrievable breakdown" in the working relationship between Pikoli and Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla, Idasa analyst Steven Friedman said the suggestion was that Mbeki got rid of Pikoli to protect Selebi. This has since been echoed from a number of quarters, including a range of analysts, as well as the ANC Youth League and opposition parties.
The question that arises as the saga unfolds is this: why would Mbeki want to protect Selebi from facing the serious charges that, for some time, have been levelled against him?
Hennie van Vuuren of the Institute for Security Studies had this to say about Mbeki's possible reasons for protecting the police commissioner: "There is the possibility that Mbeki felt he should keep Selebi close to him in the run-up to Polokwane. He might have felt he needed the police chief close to him in the lead-up and that he could possibly sacrifice him in 2008."
Political analyst Justice Malala this week concurred, saying that, with many of the nations top so-called "securocrats" having joined the Jacob Zuma camp, Mbeki might have been desperate to keep at least one person from the police or intelligence or the army in his own camp.
"Mbeki has said he did not know about the charges against Selebi until a few days ago, but on May 7 last year, Pikoli sent him a detailed letter explaining the allegations against Selebi. Mbeki put that aside and, a few months later, suspended Pikoli, telling the nation to "trust me", said Malala during a panel discussion on etv's Third Degree programme.
"He has dug himself into trouble over the arms deal and over Selebi," Malala continued.
"Mbeki has not explained himself to the nation and this has tarnished his legacy, which is being shredded by the minute."
Martin Welz, the editor of the investigative magazine noseweek, which has focused on the arms deal for years, believes that Mbeki has been protecting Selebi because he is the "gatekeeper" for the African National Congress and privy to much of what goes on in the party.
"Selebi had no background in the police. He was appointed to the job because he was a party man, not because he had any knowledge of policing. He was there solely as the party's man.
"I would say that Mbeki has protected Selebi in a bid to ensure that there are no uncontrolled leaks about the less savoury sources of the party's funding over the past 10 years," Welz said. "Those leaks would, for instance, have come out in cases such as the investigation into the Kebble case. It came out in the Kebble case, for instance, that Kebble had funded the party.
"What it boils down to is that Selebi controlled the police and therefore he controlled what the police would investigate and what they would not investigate and there is every reason to believe that the origin of much of the party's funding is connected to criminal or corrupt activity, which as leader of the party, Mbeki would have been responsible for.
"The exposure of such sources would have exposed the entire party leadership to risk."
Welz continued: "Regarding Selebi's role in Interpol, he would also have been the gatekeeper over all inquiries that might have come from foreign police agencies about bribery and corruption in South Africa's arms deal and other deals.
"At the back of everything is the arms deal, which refuses to go away. There is bribery and corruption involving the arms deal. There is also the possibility of extortion when the police have the dirt on a criminal and offer to buy his way out of the trouble by making a payment to the party or to the party's man."
Richard Young, the defence contractor who took the government to court after losing a multi-million rand bid to supply the information management system for the South African Navy's new Corvettes, had this to say about Mbeki's possible reasons for protecting Selebi: "Selebi is manipulable. He has proved himself to be someone who is prepared to go to unlawful means to solve people's problems and Mbeki has serious problems relating to the arms deal. It is quite reasonable to visualise Mbeki using people like Selebi to help him make his problems go away.
"There is clear documentary evidence to show that Mbeki personally, unlawfully and on multiple occasions, intervened in the arms acquisition processes. Mbeki has made himself very vulnerable regarding the arms deal," said Young.
"One just needs to look at Glen Agliotti's affidavit, which records how so many people went to Selebi because he was able to make their problems go away. The chief of police is extremely well placed to make problems go away. Look at how Selebi was willing to use policemen from Potchefstroom to do the dirty work on [Gauteng Scorpions boss] Gerrie Nel.
"Nel is not personally involved in the arms deal investigation, but is head of the Scorpions in Gauteng, who are running the arms deal investigation. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that when things got rough for Mbeki, Selebi could use his tactics on Nel's Scorpions team."
Young, who has made it his mission to get to the bottom of the arms deal saga, said he has established that during the arms deal investigation, members of the Scorpions investigating team approached Mbeki to interview him about the arms deal.
"Mbeki refused point blank. Yet he was the chairman of the minister's committee that dealt with the deal. Does this not show vulnerability and sensitivity, even guilt?"
Idasa analyst Steven Friedman disagrees with commentators who believe the relationship between Mbeki and Selebi relates to the arms deal.
"I think that it can be assumed that if there is anything about the arms deal which Mbeki doesn't want the country to know, then Jacob Zuma and his supporters know that already *1. I would think it has to do with dealings they might have had and I do not know, or want to speculate on what those dealings might be which Mbeki does not want to be made public."
With acknowledgement to Sue Segar and The Witness.