Convicted criminals being considered for possible release from prison by President Jacob Zuma under a special dispensation for political offenders include five mass murderers who have no affiliation with any political party, the killer of a five-month-old baby and a man convicted of aggravated robbery, it has been revealed.
A list of 149 offenders in line for a presidential pardon was published on the justice department’s website this week, with calls for responses, following a determined campaign by the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice for victims to be involved in the pardons process.
The proposed pardons are in terms of a special dispensation created by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2007 for those who missed out on the amnesty provisions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The list of offenders, who claim they committed the crimes for political reasons, includes 37 people convicted of three or more counts of murder.
The terms of reference for the special dispensation clearly state that the individuals must “have committed offences they believe[d] were in pursuit of political objectives” and must have a signed affidavit from a political organisation confirming that they were acting on party orders.
However, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation researcher Xolani Simelane pointed out that not all the perpetrators were members of political organisations. “When you look at the list, almost everyone is categorised according to political affiliation, but five aren’t, meaning they have no stated political party,” he said.
The five are Mbongeni Mjwara, Simanga Emmanuel Dlamini, Blessing Vulindlela Nkabinde, Derrick Bongani Nkabinde and Sipho Edward Mntungwa, who altogether killed 83 people and attempted to murder 55 others. The killings took place in Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal, in 1999, during a period of intense conflict between the ANC and the United Democratic Movement.
“Looking at the magnitude of their crimes, it could be that these are political potatoes that are just too hot for any party to handle,” Simelane said.
“Alternatively, it could easily be hitmen, hired to carry out political acts of violence, or just sympathisers who did not officially join any party and thus have no membership card.”
Another convicted murderer on the list, Inkatha Freedom Party member Mbukeni Innocent Zakuza, was convicted of killing the entire Mzelemu family, including a five-month-old baby. “A baby. How is that a political crime?” Simelane asked.
Also on the list are offenders convicted of crimes such as robbery with aggravating circumstances and theft. They include Phethuxolo Aubrey Godolozi, a clerk who helped a gang steal nearly R10-million from a bank in Mthatha in 1999.
The list also includes three right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging members who planted a bomb at in Worcester supermarket on Christmas Eve 1996: Johannes van der Westhuizen, Nicolaas Barnard and Abraham Myburgh.
Former apartheid police minister Adriaan Vlok and his police chief, Johan van der Merwe, members of a group that pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of anti-apartheid church leader Frank Chikane, are also being considered for special pardon.
The window period for pardon applications began on January 15 2008 and ended three months later.
The applications were considered behind closed doors by a “reference group” made up of members from political parties with parliamentary seats. Victims have 30 days — until mid-November — to make representations to the presidency opposing or supporting the pardons.
Selection process flawed
The selection of potential beneficiaries for special presidential pardons is ‘a flawed process”, says Marjorie Jobson, executive director of the Khulumani Support Group.
Jobson says the procedure followed in deciding who should be pardoned ‘was not a judicial process”. The reference group meet behind closed doors and the offenders are not cross-examined.
‘If the applications are not in the public domain, the process becomes hugely problematic,” she says.
In a statement the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice pointed out that consultation with victims of the crimes in question would not be placed on the agenda until the coalition had been to court to interdict the president from granting the pardons unless such consultations have taken place.
The Constitutional Court upheld the decision in February this year that victims be consulted before granting presidential pardons.
However, Jobson said the victims would not have access to the offenders’ applications or the reference group’ reasons for recommendation.
Tlali Tlali, spokesperson for the department of justice, said the reference group’s reasons for each application may not assist the victims in making their submissions because ‘The recommendation made by the reference group was intended for the president in considering whether or not he should grant pardon to the applicant”.