Could jailed King Dalindyebo and Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe spend Christmas at home?

King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. (File, Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)
King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. (File, Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

"He should be home by Christmas."

These are the sentiments shared by a senior ANC leader with News24 when asked for an update on attempts to get AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo freed from prison. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday that he had granted a special remission of sentence to specific categories of sentenced criminal offenders, probationers and parolees.

Ramaphosa did not mention names, but made the announcement while delivering his Reconciliation Day address in Bergville, Kwazulu-Natal.

"Remissions of sentences are always carefully considered, taking into account the interests of the public and the administration of justice. We recognise that incarceration has followed a judicial process and that sentences have been duly imposed after conviction," he said.

The process will be done in various phases, starting with special categories, including women, children, the elderly, youth and inmates with disabilities.

"It must be emphasised that this remission excludes those sentenced for violent, aggressive and sexual offences, as well as people declared dangerous criminals in terms of section 286A of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977."

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola would provide the relevant details and specific circumstances with regard to relevant offenders in due course.

King in prison

Dalindyebo, who has been in prison since December 2015, was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the Eastern Cape High Court on seven counts of kidnapping, three of assault, three of arson and one count each for culpable homicide and defeating the ends of justice.

The Supreme Court of Appeal reduced the sentence by three years.

Ramaphosa has spent much of the year mulling whether to grant the king a presidential pardon. Dalindyebo also began the processes required in order to be granted parole from his sentence.

In April, then Justice Minister Michael Masutha submitted an application for the king to be pardoned.

Family division

An ANC insider said it had been tricky navigating the matter as traditional leaders were demanding that Dalindyebo’s convictions be completely expunged, which would not be the case if he was granted parole.

News24 understands that the family had received communication of his imminent release. 

"Lamola has visited the king's homestead to speak to his son. This process has been long and dragging. We have now been told that it will happen soon but we don't know the specific times," a family member told News24.

Another family member told News24 that King Dalindyebo did not approve of his son and regent, King Azenathi, serving on his behalf Azenathi has had talks with the president and Dalindyebo claimed he was working against the release of his father. 

"It's an open secret that Azenathi does not want his father back in Bumbane. As the family who has been working hard for his release we don't understand why Lamola and Masutha have been speaking to Azenathi. The King has asked that when he returns, he wants Azenathi gone. That shows the extent of their relationship, there is no relationship," the second family member said. 

The AbaThembu monarch has been at odds since before King Dalindyebo was imprisoned. This was evident when King Dalindyebo, who had initially chosen King Azenathi to act in his place, changed his mind shortly before his incarceration and named his wife Nokwanda as regent.

This led to a bitter family feud between Azenathi and Nokwanda with King Dalindyebo's siblings split between the two factions. Former Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle then took an executive decision recognising Azenathi instead for the position. 

Activist waiting for parole

It seems a possible remission might also be on the cards for Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe. Cekeshe was sentenced to eight years behind bars after he was convicted for public violence and malicious damage to property when he tried to set a police vehicle alight during the protests for free higher education in 2016.

It's understood Cekeshe, who was recently hospitalised following a failed bid to challenge his sentence and conviction, has a matter due to be heard before the parole board next week and therefore doesn’t qualify for a presidential pardon as yet.

While those close to Cekeshe say he and his family have not heard any news about an early release, News24 understands it would be a special remission that could see him going home during the festive season.

A special remission would allow him to be released from the correctional facility while other processes unfold.

Lamola previously attempted to apply for a presidential pardon on Cekeshe’s behalf and provide legal assistance but was harshly criticised, with some saying the move was illegal. That bid has since been put on ice.

Lamola, writing in an opinion piece published on the Mail & Guardian this week, mulled over ways of striking a balance between justice and ubuntu.

Lamola said his department sought to find programmes which were in line with the spirit of "Thuma Mina", the name of one of Hugh Masekela's hit songs, which has been turned into Ramaphosa’s clarion call since he became president.

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