On the Day of Reconciliation, 16 December 2019 Minister Ronald Lamola affirmed the pronouncement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on special remission of sentence during a media briefing held in Pretoria at the Government Communication and Information System premises.
Accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services John Jeffery, National Commissioner Arthur Fraser, Chief Operations Commissioner Mandla Mkabela and other senior managers of DCS, Minister Lamola gave insight on what the process entails.
In celebrating the 25 years of democracy, the President decided to grant a special remission of sentence to specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees. The decision taken by the President is informed by powers given to him by section 84(2)(j) of the Constitution, which provides that “The President is responsible for pardoning or reprieving offenders and remitting any fines, penalties or forfeitures.”
The remission excludes those sentenced for violent, aggressive and sexual offences, as well as people declared dangerous criminals in terms of section 286A of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977. “We are committed to create safer and secure communities. Therefore, we will never sacrifice public safety as we have made it our mission to securely incarcerate hardened criminals and those who are considered to be a danger to society,” said Minister Ronald Lamola.
Lamola highlighted the significance of reconciliation and social reintegration in the process of remission of sentences. According to the White Paper on Corrections, DCS has a responsibility to facilitate reconciliation between offenders and communities they have wronged. He said the White Paper specifies that non-reconciliation with the community increases the risk of reoffending and keeps the offender alienated from the community.
Overcrowding of correctional facilities is amplified by recidivism by people who served short sentences and cannot find work because of discrimination and criminal records, and large numbers of remand detainees who cannot post bail. Although the remissions are not a solution, Minister Lamola explained that they assist in alleviating overcrowding in DCS facilities. Most of the people whose sentences will be remitted are individuals who could not afford to pay a fine and bail and women and children will be prioritised, he said.
As anticipated journalists were more drawn to details about the prominent offenders such as the abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalidyebo, Janusz Waluś who was sentenced for the murder of the Leader of the South African Communist Party, Chris Hani, fees must fall activist Khanya Cekeshe and the extradition of the Gupta brothers.
Minister Lamola said Cekeshe and King Dalindyebo are some of the offenders who will benefit a cut of 12 months from their sentences as a result of the remission. He confirmed that both offenders have applied for presidential pardoning however each offender will be dealt with according to their individual merits. He explained that he has been given 60 days by the court to make a decision on Waluś’ parole placement and that he is still studying the judgment. He further alluded that it is his responsibility as the Minister of Justice to advise the president on presidential pardons but the decision lies with whether the President agrees or not with the processes.
According to Minister Lamola, the 2019 special remissions project is targeting approximately:
- 7% of probationers, already in communities and not in correctional facilities (11 556 out of the total probationers of 13 644);
- 98% of parolees, already in communities and not in correctional facilities (24 833 out of the total parolees of 50 700);
- 30% of the total community corrections population, already in communities and not in correctional facilities (36 389 out of the community corrections population of 70 930);
- 99% of South Africa’s total inmate population in correctional centers (14 647 out of the inmate population of 163 015); and
- Less than one third (21.81 %) of South Africa’s total offender population (51,036 out of the offender population of 233 945).
The process will include all Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster Departments, including the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) who will be verifying the details of every eligible offender. Minister Lamola assured the country that the process of granting these remissions of sentences will be fair, non-discriminatory and transparent.