Tribute to Jackie Selebi by Riah Phiyega, 02 February 2015

10 February 2015

SAPS national commissioner says that is easy to stand back and criticise once someone has fallen from grace

Speaker Notes: Funeral of the late Jacob Sello Selebi: National Commissioner, General Riah Phiyega

Mrs Anne Selebi, devoted widow of Commissioner Selebi, and your sons, All other family members and friends, Comrades from the African National Congress, Former and serving members of the South African Police Service, Distinguished guests from all walks of life and from across the globe.

I greet you with sadness and humility as we bid farewell to Commissioner Selebi, man of the African soil, one who sacrificed so much for so many for the greater part of his life on earth.

I am grateful to be afforded the opportunity to say a few words at this distinguished gathering, my sincere thanks to the family for the invitation, which the police management accepted with pride.

As I am here not only as a family friend, but as the present National Commissioner of the South African Police Service, I would like to take this opportunity to speak about the many, many accomplishments that Jackie achieved during his eight year tenure as National Commissioner.

It is easy to stand from the outside looking into the SAPS and find fault. The challenges associated with building this mighty organisation are enormous. Commissioner Selebi took over from Commissioner George Fivaz at the end of December 1999 and, whilst Fivaz had concentrated on the difficult task of amalgamating 11policing agencies into one police service, Selebi tackled crime head on from the get-go. He also devoted time to continue the transformation process begun by Fivaz, but was determined to do so with the aim of improving service delivery and protecting the people of this country.

When Commissioner Selebi took over, many serving members of the SAPS were quite apprehensive, especially those still in service who had been responsible for his detention-without-trial and torture during the struggle era. It is a pity that so few members of the public were aware of the huge amount of forgiveness present in Mr Selebi's magnanimous heart, of his tremendous sense of reconciliation and forgiveness.

During his first few months in the police, then-Commissioner Selebi told his colleagues that a particular member, still serving at Head Office, had been one of those who tortured him during his detention periods. He called the officer in and told him that he had forgiven him and that he would never need to fear any form of discrimination at his hands. Selebi also vowed never to identify this officer to his colleagues and, from the date he started, to the date he left, he never did.

In his first year in office, Commissioner Selebi launched "Operation Crackdown" which, in the first six months, saw 327 489 persons being arrested, over one hundred thousand of them for serious crimes. These operations continued for an extended period and evolved into the annual festive season operations still undertaken annually, albeit under a different name.

In 2001, then-Commissioner Selebi took the unprecedented step of introducing a special salary dispensation for the lower ranking members of the SAPS. This saw constables getting the largest increase in salary and members of top management forfeiting their right to a salary increase so that the lower levels could be lifted to more acceptable salary levels. It was a badly hidden secret that Selebi fought long and hard to score this victory for the lower ranking police official. Such was his nature - he didn't feel the need to take credit for his endeavours to improve the lives of others.

Selebi, the longest serving National Commissioner, was a champion of all forms of equality and, under his watch, women were appointed to the level of Deputy National Commissioner, the first woman was appointed as a Provincial Commissioner, the SAPS Women's Network was born and the first women in the history of the police were allowed to train with the elite Special Task Force.

Building on his previous experience as a world-leader in banning anti-personnel mines, during his tenure, the SAPS continued working with our counterparts in Mozambique in unearthing and destroying huge arms caches in that country under the auspices of Operation Rachel. Selebi was also instrumental in seeing the first group of South African Police Service members being included in peace keeping missions in Sudan.

One of his greatest feats, one which has gone down in South African history, was the intelligence-driven operation which saw over 20 members of the Boeremag being arrested prior to their final plans for driving this country into anarchy could be implemented.

In a record-setting and complex trial, which was heard in the Pretoria High Court over the period of an entire decade, the men were convicted on very serious charges and sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment.  Let us never forget this important event and how Commissioner Jackie Selebi led the way with strength and leadership.

The South African Police Service also set on the pathway to becoming world leaders in major event management during Selebi's term in office as National Commissioner.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development was heralded as a major accomplishment for law enforcement in South Africa and the security plan was adopted as a blue print for future events by the United Nations. After successfully securing the Cricket World Cup the following year, South Africa was well on its way to hosting our biggest and most successful major sporting event, the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Of course, his election as President of Interpol was the feather in Jackie's cap and he threw himself into this role with vigour.

We all know that his career in the SAPS did not end the way he, or the rest of us, would have wanted. But never let that detract us from the good that he had already done, from the foundations that he laid down. It is easy to stand back and criticise once someone has fallen from grace.

But it is not easy to stand up and be counted as he did on countless occasions, starting from being willing to sacrifice his very life in order to bring about democracy and freedom for his people in his beloved country.

Let us remember Jacob Sello Selebi fairly. Let us support his devoted and loving wife and sons. Let us stand in solidarity for what he lived for. Let us remember his humility, respect, kindness, forgiveness and courage.

Issued by the SAPS, February 1 2015