I often find myself thinking “only in Joburg”. The phrase crossed my mind the other night, doubled back and took up residence and I have been trying to dislodge it ever since. It was prompted by the launch of Killing Kebble, Eye Witness News reporter Mandy Wiener’s explosive book about Brett Kebble’s murder and the vicious seam of corruption and lawlessness that it exposed in this little mining town. Jackie Selebi, Clinton Nassif, Glen Agliotti, Brett Kebble. The names are dirty, the plot far too murky and in parts just too thick to comprehend fully.
The book launch was held on the roof of Lister Building with its spectacular views over the city, a venue that can’t but help set the mood as you take a hellride through the city centre dicing with minibus taxis desperate to discharge their human contents, travelling from the northern suburbs to inner city transit points. From the 17th floor you look out over the city’s highways and byways watching the procession of twinkling lights as commuters make their way home. It was a beautiful Autumn night, inky black, crisp, not yet cold.
I have been to a lot of book launches and this wasn’t your average literary crowd. A thickset coloured man with a very large neck caught my attention as he stood next to a cocktail table, signing copies of the book. “Who do you think that is,” I asked a friend – thinking it odd that someone other than Mandy Wiener was autographing copies. “It must be Kieno Kammies” [Talk Radio 702 talkshow host], she whispered. It didn’t make complete sense apart from the fact that the roof was heaving with reporters and staff from Talk Radio 702 all there in an impressive show of support for their co-worker Wiener. [That, and sorry Kieno, but there’s a startling resemblance between your bio pic and the face staring out at me on pg 137 of the book].
It was only after Wiener took the stage for a conversation with David O’Sullivan that it became clear that the man outside was in fact Fiazal “Kappie” Smith, who together with Mikey Schultz (also in attendance) were the “bungling assassins” indemnified by the state in exchange for information about a much bigger and more sinister plot. One so complex that it would take at least five years to unravel and recount (that’s how long it took Wiener).
It still sits uncomfortably that the alleged killers were savouring the same view from the roof, nibbling on canapes and revelling in the attention they were attracting. In fact Mikey Schultz’s pretty girlfriend looked to be bursting with pride that her beau was in a book. I wonder what Janet Malcom, writer of the seminal text The Journalist and the Murderer, would have made of the scene. Her most quoted paragraph …
“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible… He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and “the public’s right to know”; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.”
David O’Sullivan also seemed disturbed by the idea that people who had killed, with intent, are now free, through “an extraordinary set of circumstances”.
“They feel as if they’ve won the lottery,” said Wiener. The way they tell it “What we have done is bad but we don’t believe it’s evil.”
Brett Kebble’s “bungled” murder or so-called “assisted suicide” [an act not recognised in law] blew the lid off an organised crime syndicate whose tentacles reached the highest office – that of national Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi who astonishingly also held the post of head of Interpol [you don’t get bigger than that]. The book is subtitled An Underworld Exposed and Killing Kebble is what did it. So why was Kebble murdered? “It depends on who you speak to,” said Wiener.
It’s one of the most talked about books, already being reprinted as the first copies flew off the shelves. To listen to Mandy Wiener speak is to hear someone who is in control of her story, her answers made for radio, sure-footed, no nuance. To hear her describe it there is black and white, and gray is just as definite a colour. Nothing dissembling about it. It works for this story. Having just started the book, I am hooked by the pace and the small details and by the idea that it may take me one step closer to understanding this mining camp, a place that serves up a murder amid canapes and champers and seems completely at ease doing so.