02 December 2011

Selebi and the sirens

Has Jackie Selebi just joined the let's-fake-illness-to-get-out-of-prison brigade? Susan Erasmus certainly thinks he's eligible for membership.


Jackie Selebi, former police chief, upon hearing that his appeal against his 15-year sentence has been dismissed, collapsed at home and was fetched by an ambulance.

I suspect he follows in the well-trodden path of the let's-fake-illness-to-get-out-of-prison brigade. He has illustrious predecessors, such as Shabir Shaik, released from prison several years ago, because he was allegedly on his last legs. Well, those legs have proved remarkably resilient and he seems to be going strong. An inconvenient miracle recovery, I take it.

Now we have Selebi going off in an ambulance. I wonder whether it was a private one, and if so, who's paying for it?

Don't get me wrong – I don't wish any serious illness on anyone. People can collapse for a wide variety of reasons:

  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Diabetic comas
  • Severe anxiety
  • Cataplexy (sudden shock)

I do suspect that the prospect of a prison sentence is not the most enticing of Christmas plans. But it's not like this is a surprise sprung on Jackie Selebi. He and his lawyers must have been fully aware for months that this was a possibility.

I do not for one moment believe that this person of high moral standing could possibly have orchestrated the hospital visit in order to prevent his incarceration. To think that would reveal a nasty level of cynicism in the same kind of league as denying a dying Schabir Shaik a last golf game, or two, or five.

And it's not often you'll hear me praise Allan Boesak, but at least he pitched at the prison when he was supposed to, and didn't pretend to be suffering from an array of illnesses in order to escape his prison sentence. OK, he did go to endless lengths to have himself pardoned afterwards, but that's neither here nor there.

What is here and there is Jackie Selebi, who is now presumably receiving medical attention most South Africans could only dream of.

The public should be told exactly what is happening here. I do not think the health of public figures is private. Certainly not if it might be used to avoid presenting yourself to the Department of Correctional Services. Nothing could be more public and more deserving of prying.

So what are the rules about missing court appearances because of illness?

A lesson can be learnt from the Egyptians, who wheeled former President Hosni Mubarak into court on a stretcher inside a cage. He was answering charges on orchestrating the deaths of 800 protesters, among other things. He is apparently suffering from a heart condition and possible stomach cancer – so nothing trivial. And he still made it to court.

Now wouldn't it make me look silly if Selebi ended up in the Intensive Care Unit with something real and horrible. But then, would we ever really know the truth?

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, December 2011) 

(Portions of this column appeared on Health24 and News24 in October 2011)






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