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  • Written by  Business Day
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South Africa: A Bargain At the Price

Some, such as apartheid victim support group Khulumani, have accused the NPA of granting Vlok a "backdoor amnesty", but this does not stand up to scrutiny. The plea-bargain mechanism saves the state time and money that could be put to better use elsewhere in the criminal justice system, and is surely preferable to an acquittal.

THE conviction of former law and order minister Adriaan Vlok and four security policemen for attempting to murder Frank Chikane almost two decades ago has been broadly welcomed, a response with which we concur.

They, and others on both sides of the anti-apartheid struggle who committed politically motivated crimes, were given the opportunity to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in return for amnesty, and the consequences of failing to do so are theirs to bear.

While they escaped with suspended sentences in terms of a plea-bargain agreement, Vlok and the others now have criminal records and are obliged to not only come clean on any other such incidents they knew about, but also testify against other perpetrators should the need arise. Bearing in mind that securing a conviction was not guaranteed had the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) opted to go to trial rather than negotiate, this outcome is both an acceptable compromise and in keeping with the spirit of the political settlement that brought South Africans to the negotiating table in the early 1990s.

Some, such as apartheid victim support group Khulumani, have accused the NPA of granting Vlok a "backdoor amnesty", but this does not stand up to scrutiny. The plea-bargain mechanism saves the state time and money that could be put to better use elsewhere in the criminal justice system, and is surely preferable to an acquittal.

 

Similar decisions are being made by prosecutors every day in respect of ordinary crimes; the system would grind to a halt very quickly if every case had to go to trial. As long as the NPA acts in the same way against every accused person against whom it has a prima facie case, South Africans have nothing to complain about.

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