The early release on medical parole of former top cop Jackie Selebi after serving just 229 days of a 15-year sentence for corruption continues to draw vitriol and complaint from the more extreme members of our Rainbow Nation.
Back in February, on this page, under the headline “The quality of mercy”, we argued for Selebi’s early release on medical grounds. Selebi should serve just one year, we suggested, and then be released to spend the remainder of his days in the care of his family. We pled his case after securing access to the former national police commissioner’s medical file, which spelled out in stark detail the reality of the 62-year-old’s “end stage” kidney illness. Lack of space precluded detailing the entire record, such as the laser surgery performed in a despairing attempt to preserve Selebi’s eyesight.
Having made our case, we were delighted when in July Selebi’s immediate release on medical grounds was announced by Correctional Services minister S’bu Ndebele.
Which is not to say that we approve of the wholesale release of large segments of the prison population. Back in May 2005, then-President Thabo Mbeki authorised the early release of 65,000 prisoners over 10 weeks. Even before the process was completed, 157 of those were back inside facing fresh charges for crimes, including murder, rape and robbery.
This year, in celebration of Freedom Day, President Jacob Zuma threw open the cell doors for 37,783 prisoners. Within a month, 47 of then were back behind bars facing fresh charges of murder, attempted murder, rape, robbery, etc, etc.
Although the state goes to considerable lengths to keep the victims of early release prisoners informed of their rights, these victims have strong grounds for substantial damages claims.
All thanks to the marathon 12-year series of court-room battles fought and eventually won by Alix Carmichele, the Knysna photographer who was savagely assaulted by a man in a beach house in 1995 and left with a fractured skull, broken arm and a deep knife wound to the chest.
At the time of the assault Carmichele’s attacker, 21-year-old Francois Coetzee who had had a previous conviction for indecent assault, had been charged with attempted murder and indecent assault on another woman and released from custody on bail pending his trial.
Carmichele sued the Ministers of Justice, and Safety and Security, claiming the state had a duty of care to protect her and others from violent criminals such as Coetzee, who should never have been granted bail in the first place. Her battle reached the Supreme Court of Appeal, which in 2003 dismissed with costs an appeal by the two ministers against an earlier high court judgment ruling them liable for the attack. Carmichele eventually received damages of R1,070,000.
The gutsy shutterbug now tells Noseweek that she would like to see victims of the latest batch of early release prisoners filing similar damages claims against the state, citing her so-arduously-tested precedent. Her attacker, Coetzee, is serving a combined sentence of 21 years’ imprisonment, but last year his early release was imminent. Carmichele and two of Coetzee’s other victims – one, a woman prison warder who just months ago was viciously assaulted by him in Malmesbury Prison – filed their objections and after assessment by an independent psychiatrist, Coetzee’s parole application was rejected.
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