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25 May 1990 00:00
Prison doors on Robben Island are expected to swing open, releasing 300 political prisoners within days, lawyers believe. The agreement reached by the joint government-African National Congress working committee, established in terms of the Groote Schuur accord, includes a broad definition of political prisoners and has raised hopes of an early release.
Previously, the government held that people guilty of acts of violence should be excluded from the terms of any amnesty.
It appears the ANC has succeeded in arguing that it include people guilty of politically motivated crimes of violence.
Among the 309 political prisoners remaining in Robben Island’s maximum-security prison are men who played key roles in the ANC’s internal high command machinery. They were jailed after treason and terrorism trials in the 1970s and 1980s. Among them are Black Consciousness Movement and Pan Africanist Congress leaders. Some Robben Islanders are “new boys”, such as Ashley Forbes, a commander of the ANC in the Western Cape who was convicted for terrorism last year. Others have spent most of their adult lives behind bars.
Anthony Xaba, 68, was tried in the 1977 Pietermaritzburg terrorism trial. He had completed a 10-year jail term only two years before he was sentenced to life imprisonment. So far he has spent 27 years in jail. In April he was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation after blood vessels burst in his brain. He was readmitted to hospital last week with a high temperature and a heavy cold. Xaba’s wife, Regina and their children live in exile. One of Xaba’s fellow accused, John Nene, was 19 years old when be was first sent to Robben Island to serve a 10-year-jail sentence. After his release he lived under a house-arrest order until his sentencing in the terrorism trial. He is now 46.
Among their co-accused on the Island are Matthews Meyiya, 76, who was sentenced to life and is studying for a BA degree, Joseph Nduli, 50, who received an 18-year sentence, and Z Mdlalose. Cleophas Ndhlovu and V Magubane were sentenced to 15 years’ and were released last month.
Other Island prisoners include:
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.
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