Should Clive Derby-Lewis be granted parole or not? That is the question – and it’s one that's been asked regularly every time there’s news of him being ill or, as has happened recently, news of him being stabbed by another inmate.
To many South Africans, Derby-Lewis is the devil-incarnate… responsible for the murder of Chris Hani, a man who could very well have been a future leader of South Africa had he not been gunned down in cold blood in 1993 by Polish immigrant Janusz Walus, using the gun given him by Derby-Lewis.
Both Derby-Lewis and Walus were sentenced to death, a sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 1995 when the death penalty was abolished.
Walus is 61 and, as the triggerman, will probably remain in jail at least until the end of his 25 year sentence. Derby-Lewis though is 78 and became eligible for parole 8 years ago, both on age and health grounds. However, thanks to the understandable lack of sympathy for him from both the Hani family and the majority of the general public, it seems increasingly unlikely that either he - or Walus - will ever be released.
Interestingly there are several precedents for the Derby-Lewis dilemma. Mark David Chapman, who shot and killed John Lennon in 1980, has been in jail ever since and, despite a number of parole hearings, seems likely to spend the rest of his life in jail. The “Helter-Skelter” murderer Charles Manson has been in jail for 43 years and will also never be released. And it’s the same story with the “I Don’t Like Monday’s” teenage murderer Brenda Spencer, as well as John Hinckley Jr, the man who attempted to assassinate US president Ronald Reagan, and in Britain, Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper” who murdered at least 13 alleged prostitutes.
Thanks to the enormity of their crimes and the massive public outrage that accompanied them, Chapman, Manson, Spencer, Hinckley and Sutcliffe will spend the rest of their misbegotten days in jail. Derby-Lewis and Walus are South Africa’s equivalent of this unlovely bunch and while I personally believe that the law is the law and that the pair should be freed either on parole or when they’ve done their time, I can understand that, for many, their freedom would be a travesty of justice.
Derby-Lewis and Walus assassinated Hani because he was leader of the SA Communist Party and to Derby-Lewis and Walus warped minds, that meant he was the anti-Christ! Ironically, it was known that in the year or two prior to his death, Hani had softened his Communist leanings and actively supported the suspension of the ANC’s armed struggle in favour of negotiations.
Chris Hani was charismatic and intelligent and was destined for greater things. Today, had he lived, he could have been President Hani – and he’d probably be doing a much better job than Jacob Zuma.
But thanks to Clive Derby-Lewis and Janusz Walus we’ll never know!