Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour has got himself into a bit of a pickle. His refusal to send for review the decision to release Schabir Shaik on parole means the only thing that will confirm the correctness of the decision is Shaik’s death. Indeed he will need to die fairly soon if Balfour is to be vindicated.
Jacob Zuma’s financial adviser and benefactor was released after serving just two-and-a-half years of his 15-year sentence in terms of a provision that renders eligible for parole “any person serving a sentence in a prison who is diagnosed as being in the final phase of any terminal disease or condition”.
The move came just two days after Zuma said in an interview that he could not see why Shaik should remain in jail. The timing will have rubbed salt in the wounds of thousands of families whose relatives have died in jail, despite their clear eligibility for medical parole. The Correctional Services Department insists that their decision is based on the recommendations of medical practitioners and that it had no reason to ignore them.
That may be so, but medical practitioners owe their ethical duty to the patient, not the legal system or the broader public, and it is simply not good enough for Balfour to bluster that he has applied his mind, and show us all his familiar middle finger.
In the absence of insight into Shaik’s medical records, there is ample reason to suspect that the process was fixed in a desperate bid to stay onside with the clan behind Zuma. The only way to allay those concerns is to allow for a review by a more independent body.
The family can help too, by agreeing that the interests of the country outweigh privacy concerns and releasing the records themselves.
Until we have more answers we will be haunted by the image of a smug and confident Shaik in the witness box, who suddenly lapsed into illness when he was sentenced.
We would much rather the parole board’s decision was vindicated by a transparent review process and the release of medical information than have it proved right by Shaik’s death. We can’t imagine how Balfour, or the family, could possibly disagree.
Losing hope for Cope
Cope came into the lives of lovelorn voters like a new romantic lead. For a little while there was real excitement: we need not be resigned, the new party said, to life with an ANC racked by domestic violence over positions and tenders.
Here are the divorce papers, Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa said — sign up and begin a new life.
But the blush is off the rose.
Drive into any big city these days and the faces of ANC president Jacob Zuma or DA leader Helen Zille greet you from lampposts and billboards. Since November they have been there, first urging you to register to vote and now asking you to put your cross next to their grinning faces on April 22.
They are slightly rarer flowers, but UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi have also blossomed on lamppost and pamphlet.
Where is Cope?
We see no posters, no door-to-door work, no advertisements. Only interviews in newspapers answering questions from journalists, and rallies, reported on by journalists.
When will the party start answering questions from those people it wants to vote for it? It does not show much sign that it is prepared for real electoral spadework.
We liked the internet savvy, the Obama-lite approach. But Obama won his election with a solid ground campaign and saturation advertising, not just internet chatter.
Cope has won over some skilled ANC organisers, but instead of putting them to work it has been locked in internal debates about leadership and efforts to sign up big ANC names.
The battlefield of the election is not boardrooms in Sandton, it is the dusty streets of Soshanguve. Any political party in South Africa worth its salt knows that personal contact with voters is the most effective way of getting them to remember you in the privacy of the voting booth.
This is achieved through door-to-door work, the mainstay of the ANC, or personal telephone calls, like those the DA employs.
Struggling to articulate a distinct ideological message, it is pinning its hopes on a priest who is yet to prove his mettle in the rough world of South African politics.
Voters haven’t yet given up on love, but unless Cope dramatically accelerates its efforts, its coming-out party will end in tears, as the ANC and the DA waltz away with its dance partners.