Noseweek is not one of the Friends of Jackie Selebi. Just the reverse: there can be few people alive who have done quite as much damage to public confidence in our law enforcement agencies, and who are more deserving of a long term in jail. What could be worse than a police chief on the take? And there is every reason to believe he was prosecuted for only a fraction of what he actually took – from various sources.
Take his offences lightly, and you double the damage. Selebi must serve a prison sentence.
That said, justice is not justice unless it is tempered with mercy. Cruelty does the perpetrator no credit. Selebi has a terminal illness – so what to do?
After the Schabir Shaik medical parole fiasco, the nation can be excused hearty scepticism over the severity of Jackie Selebi’s ill health, which has kept him out of a prison cell ever since he reported to Pretoria Central in December to begin his 15-year sentence for corruption.
But we have satisfied ourselves that severity is the true situation: appropriately qualified medical experts believe the former national police commissioner and chairman of Interpol has only between two and five years to live. For a year or more, he and his family chose to keep the severity of his condition secret: his creatinine clearance – a measure of kidney function – has been sitting at around 12 for the past year-or-so. Normally patients are started on dialysis when clearance goes below 15. He’s now at what doctors call “end stage”, or stage five, of his kidney illness. That’s when the kidneys aren’t working at all. Astonishingly, Selebi’s been at stage five since 2009, though peritoneal dialysis was started only after renal specialists discovered very high, life-threatening levels of potassium in his blood.
Without dialysis, it is stated with authority, Selebi would be dead within two weeks to six months. It’s only dialysis that will keep him alive for the longer prognosis of two to five years. But as any renal specialist will tell you, you can’t keep patients on dialysis forever; they have to have a kidney transplant. But Selebi can’t have a transplant because of his diabetes and severe secondary organ involvement.
Therefore, with a maximum of five years to live – and perhaps only two – the former top cop’s 15-year prison sentence doesn’t mean much now.
What, under these circumstances, are the demands of justice? He must serve a prison sentence. But sooner, rather then later, he must be released on medical parole.
Parole for dying prisoners has traditionally been interpreted as just that: they are released to their family, literally in the last days, to “die with dignity”. We have something a little less macabre in mind. With a minimum life expectancy of two years, halve the difference: let him serve one year in correctional services’ custody, and then release him to live out the rest of his days in the care of his family.
And while you’re about it, Mr President and Mr Commissioner, consider the thousands of ordinary prisoners who are dying lingering deaths in jail from Aids. Surely, as they near the terminal stage, they too should be paroled into the care of their families?
The current system for considering parole is overloaded and under-manned, often resulting in years passing before a ruling is made on an application.
When a prisoner with Aids is in decline and doctors determine that anti-retrovirals are no longer effective, make it routine procedure to release that prisoner forthwith. To have an Aids patient seriously ill and facing death in prison is cruel and does the nation no credit. Let them go home while their families and friends may still have pleasure in their company.
We are not a nation of barbarians, and the mark of true power, is power tempered by mercy and compassion.
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