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Pardon process legal, court told

2009-04-14 19:09

Pretoria - President Kgalema Motlanthe would not be acting unlawfully by granting pardons to over 100 people convicted of apartheid-era, politically-motivated crimes, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Tuesday.

Arguing on behalf of Motlanthe and the justice department, Marumo Moerane said according to the guidelines governing the pardons' special dispensation process, the victims of the crimes and their families did not need to be consulted.

The urgent application for an interim interdict preventing the pardons from being granted was brought by a coalition of civil society groups earlier this month and included the Khulumani support group.

The coalition has argued that the rights of victims to be heard were not catered for in the pardons process.

Support group squeezed into courtroom

To show support for the victims, members of the Khulumani support group squeezed into the packed courtroom on the sixth floor.

Counsel for the coalition Geoff Budlender, asked the court earlier on Tuesday to "freeze" the process until clarity on whether victims or their families had the right to make representations could be sought.

Moerane argued that Motlanthe had the constitutional mandate to listen to the special pardons reference group - made up solely of political parties in Parliament - then make an independent decision, nothing more.

"The powers of the president are wide and unqualified... His discretion is unfettered."

There was also no requirement stipulating he had to hear representations from the victims or their families, he said.

The legal teams also debated the origin of the special dispensation and how it related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) proceedings.

Completing TRC business

Budlender argued it was designed to complete the unfinished business of the TRC, which had run its course, and therefore, as had been the case in the TRC hearings, the victims should be allowed to make representations.

However, Moerane countered that it was in fact an entirely separate process and therefore governed by a different set of guidelines.

"Those processes had run their course, you cannot revert to the TRC processes because it had run its course... This was a special process that the [then] president [Thabo Mbeki] decided on... You cannot suddenly inject new life into the TRC process."

Moerane said Motlanthe was bound to make his decisions on granting pardons flexibly, decisively and in a speedy manner.

"Nobody can fault him. There's nothing illegal, wrong or irrational. It is important and it is urgent that the president does what he is mandated to do without delay," he said.

The application was causing further delay

AWB 7 to present arguments

Legal counsel for seven members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), who will be arguing alongside the state, are also expected to present arguments before the court.

The men, jailed for assaulting black municipal workers in Kuruman in the Northern Cape in 1995, began serving their sentences in 2006.

The Khulumani support group was formed to show support for the victims of Kuruman.

The seven are among the about 120 prisoners who were recommended by the reference group for pardons.

Around 2114 people applied.

The matter was adjourned by Judge Willie Seriti until 15:00 and was expected to continue late into Tuesday afternoon.

SAPA