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Zuma must end pardons mess

South Africa' s pardons system is in a mess, and political parties are doing nothing to help. The Khulumani victims' rights group said two years ago that pardons should not be granted to convicted killers unless the families of their victims had been given a chance to voice their opinions.

Thousands languish in prison for years for petty crimes

POTENTIAL pardons for President Jacob Zuma's former financial advisor, convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, and apartheid murderer Eugene de Kock, or "Prime Evil", have sparked a media frenzy.

Taking advantage of this, the DA yesterday launched a new private members' bill on presidential pardons.

The DA's James Selfe said that pardons undermined the rule of law and should only be granted "in exceptional circumstances".

At the moment, mo re than 200 Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (Apla) fighters have been in prison since 1993.

"They were sentenced by FW de Klerk's government," said the PAC's Phindile Xalipi. "They've been in jail for more than 15 years and we expect the government to pardon them this year."

Zuma's office said he has received a further 300 applications for pardon. Whether these include 120 names recommended last year for special political pardon nobody knows.

And then there are the IFP members who took the ministry of Justice to court last year for taking too long to consider their pardons.

The Constitutional Court told the IFP that they must sue Zuma instead. Their lawsuit against Zuma will be heard on February 4.

"The Constitutional Court must now order the president to apply his mind to their applications because our members have been waiting for seven years," IFP MP Koos van der Merwe said.

When Nelson Mandela was president he pardoned many women prisoners with young children.

Nobody knows if prisoners like these are also being considered by Zuma for pardon, or if his deliberations are all about the undeserving, like Shaik and De Kock.

South Africa' s pardons system is in a mess, and political parties are doing nothing to help.

The Khulumani victims' rights group said two years ago that pardons should not be granted to convicted killers unless the families of their victims had been given a chance to voice their opinions.

But political parties kept silent.

Not only did they not support this proposal but they took part in a multi-party Pardons' Reference Group to look at applications .

The Pardon's Reference Group operated behind closed doors and refused to allow victims' families, the media or public to share their points of view.

Tertius DelportSo it was surprising yesterday when Selfe said the DA wanted a new pardons law to include the right for victims' families to be heard before anyone was pardoned.

It was doubly surprising because in 2008 the DA's now retired MP Tertius Delport chaired the Pardons' Reference Group. Delport, a retired apartheid Cabinet member, led the group that came up with 120 names recommended for special pardon.

These included Ryan Allbut, Alexander George Whitehead, Arend Christian de Waal and Hans Jacob Wessels, four Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) members who attacked black people in Kuruman in Northern Cape in 1995.

The four were jailed in 2006.

Selfe said yesterday that although his new bill was "not about Shaik", it had been brought about by speculation that Zuma could pardon someone who had served so little of his jail sentence.

Yet the four AWB members had served less than three years of their eight years before Delport's group recommended them for pardon!

When journalists asked Selfe why he had not come up with bills when his colleague Delport was concocting lists of people to pardon, Selfe said: "I wish I had the knowledge I have today five years ago".

This isn't plausible. If the DA wants to claim the moral high ground , it should have taken a stand against political pardons for racist killers two years ago.

Thankfully, Kgalema Motlanthe was interdicted last year by the Freedom of Expression Institute, Legal Resources Centre, Human Rights Media Centre and Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation from granting any of the pardons. They said it would be unconstitutional to grant the pardons without consulting victims first.

AWB member Ryan Allbut took this interdict on appeal to the Constitutional Court, which has yet to deliver its verdict.

Political parties do whatever is politically expedient at the time. But South Africans need a chance to say what they think about convicted criminals being released with their records wiped clean.

If we could be heard , would we not urge Zuma to first release and pardon the thousands who languish in prison for petty theft?

Zuma should use the spotlight on Schabir Shaik to end the pardons mess by setting up a new, transparent system that pardons only those who genuinely deserve it.

For now, the public will have to hope for the best from the Constitutional Court. Legal Resources Centre attorney Steve Kahanowitz says "the Mbeki special political pardons process was adopted by Motlanthe and defended by Zuma in the Constitutional Court".

"We are now awaiting a judgment and that judgment may well have repercussions for the overall pardons process."

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