Parole rule frees two after 17 years

Today Fusi Mofokeng and Tsokolo Joseph Mokoena will walk out of the Kroonstad Prison as free men –17 years after being jailed for a crime they did not commit. Kashiefa Ajam writes for the Saturday Star

The men were imprisoned for life for their supposed involvement with an ANC self-defence unit (SDU) that killed a policeman and caused permanent brain damage to a second near Bethlehem in the Free State.

They were also jailed for 18 years for attempted murder and conspiracy to commit robbery.

The state at the time claimed Mofokeng and Mokoena had conspired with the SDU to rob a smallholding in the area. A local farmer was shot.

After nearly two decades of failed attempts at pleading their innocence to influential people from Thabo Mbeki to Desmond Tutu from their jail cells, a Constitutional Court judgment this week on who should handle the parole process for prisoners serving life sentences imposed before October 1, 2004, has ensured that the men will finally go home today.

IThe judgment says the minister of correctional services will now consider the placement of lifers falling within this category without the involvement of the National Council for Correctional Services (NCCS).

“They (Mofokeng and Mokoena) were in tears when we told them that they would be free tomorrow,” said Jomo Nyambi (MP), the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Petitions and Members Legislative Proposals yesterday.
“They just can’t wait for tomorrow.”

In 2009 the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) was petitioned to refer the two men’s matter to Nyambi’s committee for investigation. But their situation meant years of legal action.
Later that year Jeremy Gordin, the director of the Justice Project of the Wits Journalism School, entered the fray and took up the cudgels for Mofokeng and Mokoena.

The team realised that the solution for the men was to apply for parole.
But then confusion reigned as Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa–Nqakula proclaimed that she could not grant anyone parole without a favourable recommendation from the NCCS and that she had to get clarity from the Constitutional Court before granting any paroles.

On Thursday the department welcomed the clarity provided by the Constitutional Court, and immediately started with the consideration for placement on parole of the 385 lifers who fell within this time period.

But for Nyambi, Gordin and their teams had even more to celebrate when, hours later, Minster Mapisa-Nqakula issued instructions that Mofokeng and Mokoena be released today.

Nyambi, and his committee who all travelled to Johannesburg from Kroonstad to hear the Constitutional Court’s judgement, said yesterday: “This case is a clear indication of the travesty of justice under apartheid and utter disregard of the rights of our people.”

Nyambi said the committee was happy with the co-operation it had received from the Ministry and officials of the Department of Correctional Services and Justice and Constitutional Development, the Wits Justice Project under the leadership of Jeremy Gordin, as we all as the media for highlighting the plight of these two prisoners.

“Their release is one of the last steps that our nation is taking to put an end to a tragic past that destroyed many people’s lives, including the two who have spent almost two decades (in jail) for a crime they did not commit,” Nyambi added.

The Select Committee on Petitions and Members Legislative Proposals will attend the release of Mr. Mofokeng and Mr. Mokoena today at 11am at the Kroonstad Prison.

* Meanwhile, Mapisa-Nqakula said in a statement yesterday she would start processing all the lifers who had been referred back by the NCCS over the last couple of years where further profiles have been requested, soon.
The minister said that punitive steps have also been taken to start the process as early as Monday.

These steps will include adding extra administrative capacity to her office in an attempt to ensure the processing of the parole applications as quickly as possible. Maximum effort would also be made by the department to contact the victims of the crimes perpetrated by the remaining applicants in line with the spirit of the White Paper on Corrections.

Mapisa-Nqakula said she would announce decisions on the first 95 parole applications on April 8 and conclude decisions about the remaining 290 on May 15.

Where neccessary lifers falling within the group that will be considered may be temporarily moved to one facility so as to allow for the easy completion of this work by Correctional Supervision and Parole Boards (CSPB) who would not then have to spend valuable time travelling to different prisons.

“The Ministry of Correctional Services wishes to emphasise to both applicants and the South African public that being considered for parole does not automatically mean parole will be granted, as parole is a privilege dependent on specific and certain qualifying criteria and not a right.”

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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