The release of Jacob Zuma after serving only two months of a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court has caused a lot of confusion, and stirred up some concerns about rules being flouted to accommodate the wills of the powerful and politically connected.
The medical parole board, which advises on these matters, pronounced Zuma to be in a “stable condition”, and therefore did not recommend that he be granted medical parole.
Yet national commissioner of correctional services Arthur Fraser went ahead anyway and granted the former president parole, arguing that he had satisfied himself that medical intervention was needed in Zuma’s case.
In making the decision, Fraser overruled the parole board. This flagrant abuse of power must have embarrassed those who sit on the board.
They will most likely be asking themselves the question: Why do they sit on the board if their recommendations can be so easily overruled by the commissioner, who has thus far refused to give reasons for his decision?
Fraser’s intervention recalls another equally controversial medical parole matter involving Schabir Shaik, the convicted criminal who was Zuma’s financial adviser.
In March 2009, Shaik, serving a 15-year sentence for corruption and fraud, was released on medical parole on the grounds that he was terminally ill‚ losing his eyesight and would die from “severe” high blood pressure. He spent the time under house arrest at his home in Durban.
The year before, head of cardiology at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban, Professor DP Naidoo, had discharged Shaik in December because he was considered well enough to leave. After his release on parole, Shaik was seen out and about, and was at one stage even seen playing golf.
Fraser says he has his reasons for having overruled the board. However, he has not made these public and insists his decision was “legal”.
With no explanation forthcoming, the public is left with no choice but to conclude that this was a political decision. Perhaps the governing party believes that, with Zuma out of prison, he can play a role in its desperate campaign to win in the upcoming elections. Such irregular decisions will inevitably inspire not only anger and confusion, but also a lot of speculation.