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Richmond ready to leave past behind

THE community of Richmond appears ready to accept back those who wrought havoc in the KwaZulu-Natal town in the 1990s, saying they were prepared to forgive the killers. The Mercury visited Richmond after the publication of a list of 149 prisoners recommended for presidential pardon. Two of those on the list have been paroled and have returned and been accepted into the Richmond community.

The Magoda area in Richmond was home to the late United Democratic Movement leader Sifiso Nkabinde and was the epicentre of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1990s.

Bongani Nkabinde, convicted on 11 counts of murder and six of attempted murder, and sentenced to 20 years, was released from prison in May after serving 10 years and is reintegrating into the Magoda community where he was involved in the conflict between the UDM and ANC.

“Things are better now in the community; I can go anywhere and the rehabilitation programmes have helped,” said Nkabinde. “I am participating with the community in various projects. In prison I also acquired new skills, such as welding and plumbing, and I improved on my art work as well.”

Correctional Services Department spokesman Manelisi Wolela said: “If a person was sentenced to life in prison before October 2004, they would be considered for parole after 20 years. However, if it was after October 2004, they would be considered after serving 25 years in prison.”

He said the presidential pardon process applied to prisoners and those on parole.Pardons, which expunged criminal records, could be obtained even after sentence was completed.

Justice Department spokesman Tlali Tlali said the decision to grant pardons lay with the president.

Victims of political violence in Richmond said yesterday they were prepared to forget the past and accept the prisoners back into society.

Lulu Thompson, whose son, deputy mayor Percy Thompson, was killed in the infamous “tavern massacre” in 1988, said she was prepared to forgive his killers although her wounds had not completely healed. “My son was the breadwinner and he died for nothing,” she said.

Nonhlanhla Nkabinde, wife of UDM leader Nkabinde, said there was sufficient reconciliation in the community for people to accept the prisoners.

“We have been involved in various programmes with the different political parties of the killers and the victims. We have come up with projects to reintegrate them, so we will bridge the gap between those in prison and those on the outside.”

Musa Ndlovu, chairman of the Khulumani support group, which has worked closely with the victims of violence, noted: “Richmond has a long and violent history and people were not entirely happy about some of the decisions (to release prisoners). Although some people accept the recommendations, some are sceptical about the prisoners’ rehabilitation.”

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