Early release

2009-03-04 00:00

Many will have been dismayed to learn of the premature release from prison on parole of fraudster Schabir Shaik. Convicted in 2005 after a meticulously reasoned judgment, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, Shaik has served a mere two-and-a-half years and this mostly in various hospitals, reportedly being treated for chronic high blood pressure, chest pains and depression.

Shaik’s release was a decision of the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board of the Durban-Westville management area and was confirmed by the Department of Correctional Services. The parole board’s decision is final and can be reviewed only by a review board led by a judge. At the time of the sudden announcement, no reasons for it were given, although it’s likely that the grounds cited will be medical — a privilege granted to those who, mortally ill, wish for a dignified death at home. Is Shaik indeed mortally ill? Has a physician determined that his condition is worse than those of the many in prison suffering fromterminal Aids, say, or tuberculosis? Are his high blood pressure and his depression more serious than those of the thousands of other prisoners coping with stress and despair? Is he going to die of what ails him within the coming weeks or months, or will freedom restore him magically to health?

In fact, there seems a strong possibility that Shaik is not at death’s door and that in his case normal procedures have been circumvented, a suggestion supported by ANC president Jacob Zuma’s comment, published in a weekend newspaper, that if he becomes the country’s president after the April elections he will pardon Shaik. In other words, it looks as if Shaik’s release derives from the association between Shaik and Zuma: the presidential candidate would much prefer not to go into the election with his partner in prison. With Shaik back in civil society, Zuma’s surely hoping that the spotlight on their connection will fade and that the public clamour for Zuma himself to be brought to justice will become muted.

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