/ 29 April 2009

Court grants interdict in pardons case

Ferdi Barnard, who shot and killed anti-apartheid activist David Webster 20 years ago, will not receive a presidential pardon any time soon.

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria granted an interim interdict on Wednesday preventing President Kgalema Motlanthe from granting pardons to prisoners convicted of politically motivated apartheid crimes.

On May 1989 Webster was shot dead with a shotgun at point-blank range outside his Troyeville house in Eleanor Street, Johannesburg. Barnard, an employee of the Civil Cooperation Bureau — the apartheid regime’s defence force-linked dirty tricks unit — is thought to have been paid a bonus of R40 000 for the hit.

This weekend Troyeville Park, on the corner of Wilhelmina and Beelaerts Streets, will be renamed the David Webster Park.

In 2008 then president Thabo Mbeki established a ”special dispensation” for the granting of pardons to people who had been convicted of offences allegedly committed in pursuit of political objectives.

A reference group chaired by former Cabinet minister Tertius Delport examined 2 114 applications for pardons — including Barnard’s.

The reference group refused to identify who applied for pardons or disclose the contents of their applications. This was despite Mbeki telling a joint sitting of Parliament on November 21 2007 that the pardons would be guided by the principles, criteria and spirit that inspired and underpinned the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On Wednesday, Judge Willie Seriti ruled in favour of a coalition of civil society groups who had brought the urgent application. The applicants had argued that the granting of pardons should be set aside until the right of the victims to be heard had been fully explored.

In a written judgement, Seriti said he agreed that Motlanthe had made a ”lawful public commitment” that the rights of victims to be heard should be explored. ”My view is that the president should allow the victims and or their families and interested parties to be heard prior to releasing any prisoner on parole,” Seriti’s judegment read.

The state declined to comment as it needed to study Seriti’s judgement. In March the state argued that Motlanthe’s comments that victims’ rights should be explored was not contractually binding and therefore not enforceable.

Speaking after the judgement was handed down, Melissa Moore from the Freedom of Expression Institute — one of the applicants in the case — said it was a ”massive victory”.

”It’s a huge win for access to information. It’s a big first step forward.” Moore told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday that none of what Mbeki had told Parliament in 2007 had been carried over into the reference group process.

She said that until the matter is heard again, the president cannot issue pardons and he would have to supply the civil society groups with a list of names of the applicants who had been recommended for pardons by the reference group.

Tshepo Madlingozi from the Khulumani Support Group said the state had in the past been ”hostile” to the rights of victims and the ruling vindicated the right of victims to be heard. ”We hope this is a turning point in how the government relates to victims. Over the past few years the government has been hostile to the pleas and rights of victims. Our hope is that the new incoming administration will be less hostile,” he said.

The Khulumani Support Group — also an applicant in the matter — was formed to support victims and families of the 1995 Kuruman violence in which black municipal workers were assaulted.

Seven members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging who were involved in the violence had joined the state in resisting the coalition’s court bid.