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Fraser saves Zuma from prison – again

Breaking news on Sunday night that former president Jacob Zuma’s medical parole was approved by the department of correctional services should come as no surprise to anyone. If a nobody like Schabir Shaik could get himself released on medical parole (on no less flimsy grounds than Msholozi’s), then why would a much more politically connected person like Zuma not succeed? The fact that he has refused to be examined by independent doctors has already raised red flags. 

AfriForum and the Democratic Alliance (according to its leader, John Steenhuisen) have indicated that they intend reviewing the department’s decision judicially (by way of the courts). 

More disturbing are the reports that the department’s medical board dismissed Msholozi’s application for medical parole. According to a statement released by the department, it was Arthur Fraser, the former spy boss under Zuma and now the national commissioner of correctional services, who signed off on the decision to allow Zuma’s parole. It was also Fraser who got Zuma off fraud and corruption charges back in 2009.

Steenhuisen lost no time in lodging an application for access to information relating to the medical parole board’s decision and it certainly is in the national interest to see what had transpired here. 

If it was Fraser who overruled the medical parole board and gave Msholozi the green light, this is on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s head. He removed Fraser from his position as spy boss in the State Security Agency to the (supposedly) more innocuous position at correctional services. 

Zuma is serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt (of court) after refusing to cooperate in answering questions at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. Ramaphosa’s confounding statement that he welcomes Zuma’s release because he heard Msholozi was sick, only adds insult to injury. What about the thousands of offenders who die behind bars in South Africa because of delayed or late medical parole adjudications? 

The department claims Zuma was eligible for medical parole because the decision was supported by medical reports, but this proposition has been questioned by no less than advocate Modidima Manya. Manya, the legal adviser to a minister and premier and a former head of the departments of agriculture (KwaZulu-Natal) and education in the Eastern Cape, argues that the decision is suspect because it does not stand up to scrutiny. 

Fraser is not authorised to greenlight a prisoner’s release on medical grounds if the correctional services department’s medical board does not recommend it. 

uBaba is always complaining that the judges sitting on his rolling matters are biased against him, but now he had a “judge” biased in his favour. 

If nothing else, as Accountability Now notes, Fraser should have recused himself from the decision of whether Zuma should be granted parole — not least because of the flimsy medical grounds proffered. 

Fraser has been implicated in state capture and is accused of having run a parallel intelligence structure during his time in office at the State Security Agency. 

He has also been called to testify at the Zondo commission, but hinted darkly that he will only testify if he is granted immunity from prosecution in advance — wise counsel that eluded Angelo Agrizzi, whose singing at that forum would have made any canary proud. 

Whistleblowers in post-apartheid South Africa have never had it easy. In the perceptive words of Eugene McLaughlin, professor of criminology at the City University of London, “the blind spot of conventional criminology retains its steadfast refusal to research victimisation by the powerful, not least because the state does not recognise nor fund such research”. 

The Zuma-episode demonstrates McLaughlin’s notion with some illumination and, one may add, some irony as well.

Zuma went down for a relatively petty crime (contempt of court) and a short term of imprisonment. As happened to the mafia boss Al Capone in the 1930s, when he was jailed on tax evasion charges, the irony is that Zuma went inside for 15 months when he should be serving 15 years for enabling and benefitting from state capture during his disastrous nine years in office. 

But then, as Stanley Cohen suggests, the crimes of the wealthy and the powerful are not even recognised as “crimes” and much less prosecuted (state capture and climate crime being cases in point). Cohen was an anti-apartheid activist who cut his teeth in South Africa before going on to become a world authority on state crimes and professor of sociology at the London School of Economics.

If this exercise proves one thing, it is that Fraser’s involvement in Zuma’s medical parole clearance shows that a compromised individual can still cause damage wherever he/she is “redeployed” to. Watch this space for the future career trajectories of cadre redeployment, notably that of our dishonourable speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who has now been accused of accepting bribes. With Fraser’s contract about to expire at correctional services, Ramaphosa would do well to send the former spy boss on his way. 

But the department’s implication in corrupt practices precedes Fraser well before he was appointed national commissioner. Correctional services has a deplorable record when it comes to corruption and tender-rigging. 

The phenomenon known as the prison-industrial complex, which by all accounts gained a footing on South African soil with the opening of the Kokstad Ebongweni supermax underground prison in May 2002, is proof enough of this contention. 

Eric Schlosser defined the “prison-industrial complex” in The Atlantic as “a set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of the actual need”. The point is that (needless) prison expansion takes precedence over arguably more pressing socioeconomic expenditure, such as education, job creation, health and road maintenance, to mention but a few. 

The Kokstad outfit is reportedly the largest prison of its kind in the world and it has distorted our understanding of crime and certainly perpetuated crime trends in, as yet, unknown ways. 

In her book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis, the well-known United States prison-abolitionist activist, drew attention to the dangers of a young democracy, such as South Africa was at the time, embracing the monster of unnecessary prison expansion in contending that: “I am highlighting South Africa’s embrace of the supermax because of the apparent ease with which this most repressive version of the US prison system has established itself in a country that has just recently initiated the project of building a democratic, nonracist, and nonsexist society.”

Disturbingly, it was not Zuma who ran the show at the time, but Thabo Mbeki. Was the ANC government already complicit and implicated with Big Business as far back as then? 

This is important because, as McLaughlin contends, “[t]hese particular commercial enterprises have a built[-]in ‘growth dynamic’ because they have a vested interest in seeing the problem of crime growing”. We have seen this with the correctional services department, during the infamous Bosasa scandal, actively diverting funds from legitimate and much needed projects (reducing overcrowding, building maintenance, staff shortages, et cetera) to create a “fiscal bubble” at the end of the financial year. 

Fiscal dumping (as suggested by James-Brent Styan and Paul Vecchiatto in their book The Bosasa Billions) is then affected by splurging on arguably negligible projects, such as the provision of televisions, at greatly inflated prices (as reported by Adriaan Basson in his book Blessed by Bosasa), managed by specific and implicated service providers (read: Bosasa). 

The Bosasa scandal and the department of correctional services’s long and shameless record of criminal collusion should make us connect the dots when it comes to indefensible decisions such as medical parole for Zuma, the man who almost tanked this country. But, more importantly, it should encourage the public to ask questions about the values that the department, as an institution, embraces. 

The task of transforming correctional services from an institution that barely holds the fort against negative peace (in the form of mere desistance from crime) as opposed to enduring positive peace, has barely begun. 

In the project of the transformation of the prison, an institution that embraces a deplorable legacy of colonialism and apartheid-thinking, the issue of Zuma’s medical parole hardly registers. 

Dr Casper Lötter is a conflict criminologist affiliated with North-West University’s School of Philosophy (Potchefstroom) as a research fellow

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Casper Lӧtter
Dr Casper Lӧtter is a critical criminologist (from a trans-disciplinary philosophical perspective) affiliated to North-West University (Potchefstroom) as researcher extraordinaire

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