Selebi plays Zuma, Agliotti plays Shaik

I can’t help but think of the Selebi corruption trial and conviction as a proxy for the big one that never happened.

There’s a story about Glenn Agliotti wandering around Shell House in the early 90’s, undoubtedly looking to meet and great the returning leaders of the ANC.

Somewhere in those chaotic corridors where incompetence was already a watchword he bumped into Jackie Selebi who was then the ANC Youth League president and member of the ANC National Executive Committee.

Too many versions of this story exist – some putting the meeting much later when Selebi was already a member of parliament, to which he was elected in 1994.

But the version I have is Selebi was part of the “advanced guard” of ANC cadres who had been sent to prepare the way for returning leaders, and that the first casual, supportive meeting took place as early as 1990.

Now the Jackie Selebi story has been exhuastingly, if not exhaustively, rehashed during the trial during which our previous Commissioner of Police and head of Interpol has now been found guilty of corruption – with Glenn Agliotti being the corrupter.

Similar story to Jacob Zuma’s

It reminds me of a similar set of stories about our erstwhile president Jacob Zuma. He was also part of an advanced guard and his version of Glenn Agliotti was none other than Schabir Shaik – who looked after him, gave him pocket-money and places to stay and, ultimately, traded on his name and access and went to prison for the crime of corruption.

The whole edifice of the organisation that became the sum total of our political and governing leadership was uniquely vulnerable during that brief moment of return.

They had nothing: no money, nowhere to stay, no transport and no infrastructure.

They were like innocents arriving off the boat in the new world; a whole legion of sharp and dangerous types were waiting to sidle up to them offering comfort and succour and help and support.

It doesn’t excuse Jackie Selebi just like it doesn’t excuse Jacob Zuma (who through political shenanigans remains untried and unpunished) but it is important to remind ourselves how vulnerable these men and women were and how easily they fell.

There is a moment when the frog in the pot on the stove is in cool comfortable water. As we watch, with horror and disgust, the frog stew boiling furiously and the green scum frothing into the flames we should keep that in mind.

8 thoughts on “Selebi plays Zuma, Agliotti plays Shaik

    1. thanks Jen … always a pleasure to see your comments here … btw, not everyone agrees – you can see some of the comments from my one old friend called Andre here, and another old friend with a similar name emailed me and said: “weak piece, soppy, what about the fact that after we came to power, we had excellent salaries and benefits, so of course the point that people were vulnerable is true but so….?” Both these harsh critics will remain my mates for the foreseeable future – keep well.

  1. Uh, Nic – I quote you: “Jackie Selebi who was then the ANC Youth League president”. ANC Youth League president aged 40+? Too much Ju-Ju on the brain?
    And again: “it doesn’t excuse Jacob Zuma (who through political shenanigans remains untried and unpunished)”. Unpunished. Sounds like you’ve tried him right here – not quite the rule of law, neh?

    1. @ andre …. if my memory serves me well he was appointed/elected ANCYL pres in 1988 in Lusaka (which made him 38 at the time …. yes?) so I can’t really answer for the ANC as to what it decides is a “youth” … I have always felt they stretched the definition somewhat.
      As to your point about Zuma’s innocence or otherwise … you are quite right, but I used those words deliberately – I won’t debate the issues with you, but both the facts of Shaik’s trial and the political plays that kept Zuma out of court leave me feeling quite comfortable stating the plain truth that he remains “untried and unpunished”. The fact that there was no trial was always going to leave a stench; this was the price the Polokwane Putsch must pay for finding a “political solution” to a criminal indictment.

  2. The frog has no choice!

    Where corruption is involved it is always possible for the individual to say “no”. Unfortunately the wages of corruption seem to be regarded as an entitlement at all levels of the current government.

    1. thanks Chaswin …. of course I agree and I want to make it clear that I am not, in any way, using the ‘frog in the pot’ analogy to ask for forgiveness or even understanding of those who have slipped down the slippery slope – that begins at casual favours and assistance and quickly skims away down to fancy suits and shoes and then envelopes and briefcases stuffed with cash – again, just read Schabir Shaik’s trial record to see a perfect description of that slope in relation to Jacob Zuma. I suppose I am going back to the return from exile because I think it was a defining moment for the ANC and for the country. Organised crime, in a very conscious and clever move, stepped into a gap that appeared as the old was being thrown out and before the new was constructed. Individuals who moved through that gap seemed to have slipped in their droves. They were not exceptional or unusually bad people. The unusual one’s are the one’s who said “no” from the outset. This doesn’t excuse anyone anything – of course everyone has a choice. But if all we do is keep asserting this we miss a chance at understanding why SO many people made the wrong choice. There was something unique about those times, about the people who returned, about their levels of infrastructural support, about the fact that they had become accustomed to living off hand-outs in exile, that they felt entitled to those hand-outs, about the society into which they returned and the levels of criminality that had become endemic in the dying years of Apartheid. So “the frog in the pot” metaphor doesn’t quite cover all of that, but I rather loved the the thought of staring down into an over-boiling pot that had contained a big bullfrog and some water … can you imagine how disgusting that would look and smell … the occasional glimpse of a bone and skin? A bit like the look and smell that is coming out of the feeding frenzy of leading politicians

  3. .July 19, 2010 at 10:32 am


    “this was the price the Polokwane Putsch must pay for finding a “political solution” to a criminal indictment.”

    Polokwane Putsch ? There was no Putsch ( see following definition ) :

    A coup d’état ( or /ku de.ta/) (plural: coups d’état), or coup for short (French for overthrow of the state), is the sudden unconstitutional deposition of a government, usually by a small government’s surrender; or the acquiescence of the populace and the non-participant military forces.

  4. An interesting aspect of the Selebi/Agliotti relationship might be whether Agliotti’s financial circumstances changed markedly after he became involved with ANC cadres. As the old adage goes – follow the money!

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