‘Zuma, don’t free killers’

2010-10-24 10:58

Families of victims of political violence and human rights lawyers are gearing up to stop President Jacob Zuma from issuing pardons to 149 jailed murderers unless they make full disclosures on the killings and who ordered them.

Both families and lawyers are demanding that government go beyond simply placing adverts in the media about the “fundamentally flawed” process, which was meant to conclude the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) but has instead proposed pardoning several mass murderers who have failed to come clean about the extent of their deadly work.

This week the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development publicised the names of those who were being considered for pardon, and gave victims and their families 30 days (to register their intent to support or oppose the applications).

Justice Department spokesperson Tlali Tlali said their role was merely to ensure that “government complies with the court order and to facilitate the process around the issue”.

But victims and survivors from Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal – where 120 people were murdered in clashes between the ANC and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) in the late 1990s – have reacted angrily to the proposed pardons. They argue that the perpetrators should not be released unless they make full disclosures of their crimes, including killings and acts of violence for which they were not charged or convicted.

The legal groups, which have already taken the government to the Constitutional Court to force it to hear the opinions of victims and their families before granting the pardons, are preparing for the eventuality of a new court challenge.

Collectively, the killers seeking pardon have been convicted of 339 counts of murder and 200 counts of attempted murder. However, because they have not been forced to disclose all their crimes, despite the original terms of reference of the dispensation, the true number of lives they took may never be known, nor will the identities of those behind the killings.

The families of victims of hit squads who operated in Richmond during the bloody war between the ANC and UDM are now demanding that unsolved investigations be ­re-opened to ensure that killers are brought to book.

Earlier this year the presidency made preparations to grant the pardons – with political parties meeting with affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal to prepare for the killers’ releases – but intervention at the Constitutional Court by the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice forced government to stop the pardons and allow victims, their families and survivors the right to object to the releases.

Coalition spokesperson Howard Varney said they had approached the Department of Justice to make public the content of the applications and details as to whether the perpetrators had committed to full disclosure, but the department had refused to do so.

Varney said it was still unclear if government would give victims access to the full details of the applications, the reasons given by the reference group in recommending pardon.

“Victims naturally need such essential information in order to be able to properly make representations on whether a pardon should be granted or not.
We call on government to facilitate access to this information in each case,” said Varney.

He said many of the killers awaiting release had committed crimes such as theft and robbery with aggravating circumstances, which “can hardly be described as political”.

“Many of these individuals still represent a serious threat to society. Some have served only a fraction of their sentences,” he said.

Varney added that the list of recommendations showed that there was “something seriously wrong” with the process and that they “induce a sense of real shock and outrage in the wider community”.

“They speak to how defective and inappropriate the special pardons process was. We regret that we have had to compel our government to consult with victims. The fact that the government was quick to provide special and lenient measures for perpetrators while failing to implement the TRC’s recommendations for victims represents a gross injustice. The conduct of government has not advanced social reconciliation in South Africa.”

The Coalition will, in the next week, link up with victims and provide them with “whatever legal and other support they may need” to ensure justice.

“Depending on how thing go from here, this may end up in court again,” he said.

Tlali said the publication of the list of applicants was a presidential process. “We are providing the opportunity for victims to register their concerns with the president, so that in the decision-making process the president takes into consideration their concerns and views,” said Tlali.

“The eventual decision will be that of the president and the president alone.”

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