The release of former President Jacob Zuma from prison, as part of a nationwide remission of non-violent offenders to ease the overcrowding of correctional facilities across the country, has been met with mixed reactions.
While the Democratic Alliance (DA) has labelled President Cyril Ramaphosa a “spineless” leader who moved towards a political solution to save Zuma from another stay in prison, former Public Protector Professor Thuli Madonsela has given thumbs up to the executive decision.
“I support the remission of former President Zuma’s sentence as Ubuntu anchored. The point regarding no one being above the law has been made and the teaching power of the law leveraged,” said Madonsela.
In a surprise move, Madonsela also stated that Zuma was not to blame for the parole he received last year, which resulted in the DA deciding on review.
“Nothing more could be gained through further incarceration. There’s also the fact his release was the state’s mistake,” Madonsela said.
DA leader John Steenhuisen had nothing flattering to say about Zuma’s release.
“We’ve woken up to the news this morning that the government has once again [avoided] standing up for the rule of law and the constitution and chosen through a cynical and manipulative move to set Jacob Zuma free.
“This is yet another example about this government and particularly our president who has once again shown his spinelessness, walking out on the principles that we should hold dear in any democracy, the rule of law and equality before the law. This is a manipulation of the justice system,” said Steenhuisen.
Steenhuisen also claimed that the special remission of prisoners was a brand-new policy specifically designed to favour Zuma.
Presidential remissions were first granted on May 10, 1994, at the inauguration of late former President Nelson Mandela, followed by two more special remissions on April 27, 1995, and July 18, 1998.
In 2005 former President Thabo Mbeki granted special remissions to 65 837 prisoners. The number included 31 865 inmates and 33 972 parolees. Zuma himself granted special remissions to 45 033 prisoners on April 27, 2012.
African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA) leader Carl Niehaus publicly reprimanded Steenhuisen for his remarks on Zuma’s remission.
“Can’t you shut up for once and realise that your white *ss has been saved? A racist like you has no moral authority to comment on this matter,” said Niehaus.
During an interview with a broadcaster, DA member of parliament Glynnis Breytenbach went as far as alleging a pre-hatched conspiracy to release Zuma.
She said It was bizarre that the loss of more than 3 000 beds from a fire that broke out at the Kutama Sinthumule Correctional Centre in Makhado, Limpopo, three days ago, necessitated the urgent remission of prisoners, including that of Zuma.
“I don’t necessarily think this was planned way beforehand; I think that even the fire in Makhado was too much of a coincidence, and to suddenly have to rehouse three and a half thousand prisoners and this [becomes] the reason for urgency is just absolute nonsense.
“Of course, this scheme was set in motion when they lost the matter in the Constitutional Court. Another way had to be found to accommodate Zuma and this is what they have come up with,” said Breytenbach.
Independent political analyst Gakwi Mashego said the fire issue was just a wild conspiracy theory as Ramaphosa had other options for setting Zuma free.
“I don’t agree with the allegation that the fire that broke out at Kutama Sinthumule was meant to assist in Zuma’s remission. You don’t need a fire at a facility in order to facilitate the remission of a former president.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa had a lot of cards at his disposal that he could have played, including giving Jacob Zuma a presidential pardon. We have always said that there was going to be a political solution, and here we are. This is preparing us for the bigger charges Zuma still faces, where we are mostly likely to see another political solution,” said Mashego.
According to Correctional Services National Commissioner Samuel Thobakgale, Zuma presented himself to the Estcourt Correctional Centre in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, on Friday morning to be processed as a prisoner.
Thobakgale said Zuma was acting in line with a court decision that his parole was unlawful, and therefore he had to return to Estcourt to complete his sentence.
“In compliance with the SCA Judgement, Mr Zuma did report back at Estcourt Correctional Centre. A consideration has been made as per legislation, including processes that were already unfolding in the management of correctional services.
“The administrative procedures have ensued and Mr Zuma has been processed accordingly. I have therefore advised the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services of my decision,” said Thobakgale.
Minister of Justice, Constitutional Development and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola added that as a non-violent prisoner, Zuma was among the 9 488 prisoners who qualified for a presidential remission granted by Ramaphosa today.