In a statement on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that he had decided to grant a special remission of sentence to specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees.
He said this was to be part of celebrating 25 years of democracy, and was in line with established international practice and the Constitution.
“Remissions of sentences are always carefully considered, taking into account interests of the public and the administration of justice. We recognise that incarceration has followed a judicial process and that sentences have been duly imposed after conviction.
“There have been previous remissions of this nature granted to coincide with important national days,” he added in tweeted statements from the Presidency.
“The process will be done in various phases, starting with special categories, including women, children, the elderly, youth and inmates with disabilities.”
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, provided further relevant details and specific circumstances with regard to the relevant offenders in a press conference on Monday afternoon. He said offenders could expect to have 12 months shaved off their sentences.
“It must be emphasised that this 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,” added the president.
During his briefing, Lamola said that the decision to grant remission was partly to deal with prison overcrowding and they would particularly be looking to release prisoners who could not afford to pay their fines, particularly for less serious offences.
“Plans for offenders are put together once they are incarcerated to ensure rehabilitation.”
Lamola said some inmates contributed to society once released. He commended former inmate Blessing Ngobeni for winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award.
“There is a population of 163,015 offenders across 243 correctional centres. These are both sentenced and remanded detainees. There are 70,930 on parole and probation.”
The department would roll out the 2019 special remissions project, which would target 84.7% of probationers already in communities, 49.98% of parolees, and 8.99% of the total inmate population in correctional centres.
“The Special Remissions project will not apply to those serving sexual offences, murder and attempted murder, certified as mentally ill, high treason, those serving life, any escapee, and those who violated the Domestic Violence Act.”
The process of granting these remissions of sentences would be fair, non-discriminatory and transparent, added Lamola.
Responding to questions about the release of abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, he said the king would benefit by having 12 months shaved off his sentence through remission, and he would therefore be eligible for parole.
He added that the king’s application for a presidential pardon was still on Ramaphosa’s desk and no decision had yet been made.
The minister added that a presidential pardon for jailed Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe was also still undecided, since he was still appealing his sentence. He, too, would, however, benefit from a remission of the sentence he was already serving and qualified for early release on parole. Cekeshe’s lawyer said immediately afterwards that Cekeshe would be able to get parole in June 2020, even taking the 12 months into account, in effect correcting Lamola’s apparent misunderstanding that Cekeshe would be able to get parole immediately.
Lamola appeared sure, however, that Cekeshe could get special parole.
Lamola said he was still considering the release of Chris Hani’s killer, Janusz Walus, after the courts recommend he do so within 60 days.