What makes Janusz Walus' imminent release so vile, to many, is that the same justice system on which he now leans to regain his freedom has so shamefully abandoned those who laid down their lives in the struggle to free the country from apartheid, writes Brett Herron.
Despite murdering Chris Hani in an effort to derail South Africa's transition from apartheid, Janusz Walus is entitled to the just mercy of the South African constitutional order he did his damnedest to thwart.
Walus has richly benefitted from the advent of democracy. First, he benefitted with his life. Had the democracy not abandoned capital punishment, he would have received a pauper's burial in Pretoria many years ago after being hanged. He was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Now, he is to benefit with his freedom.
That's the law, and it's hard to argue with the principle that we can't have one law for Janus Walus – or Jacob Zuma, for that matter – and another for the rest of us.
Poverty and degradation
But what makes Walus' imminent release so vile, to many, is that the same justice system on which he now leans to regain his freedom has so shamefully abandoned those who laid down their lives in the struggle to free the country from apartheid.
And, what makes it worse, is that nearly 29 years into the democratic era, so many South Africans continue to await any form of "freedom dividend"; so many are unemployed, and so many live in abject poverty in a society of extreme inequality.
"Poverty and degradation exist side by side with modern cities and a developed mining, industrial and commercial infrastructure. Our income distribution is racially distorted and ranks as one of the most unequal in the world – lavish wealth and abject poverty characterise our society…”
Walus might recognise this South Africa; it's how his enemies, the ANC and its alliance partners, described the country in 1993 in the introduction to the Reconstruction and Development Programme – the same year he killed Hani.
Indeed, if he is a thoughtful person, he might contemplate on his way from prison to the airport – bound for his native Poland – how similar societal structures remain today.
In recent months I have used the parliamentary questions process in a quest to understand why our democracy has had so little appetite to deal with wrongs inherited from the past.
Why did we bother establishing an elaborate amnesty process (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) if we didn’t intend to hold those who did not receive amnesty accountable in terms of the law?
Why did we set up a President’s Fund as a vehicle to finance redress for apartheid victims if we couldn't be bothered to spend the money?
Why did we re-open the process for people to lodge land restitution claims when we cannot manage the first round of applications?
What about justice for other families?
These questions are particularly perplexing given that the state is led by the very liberation movement that carried the hopes of many South Africans for post-apartheid justice. Many of those who died in the struggle, who lost land, and whose dignity was forcibly removed were members or supporters of this movement.
While government inefficiencies and incapacities provide some answers, a golden thread seems to be the state's steadfast unwillingness to implement recommendations of the TRC. (I asked Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola if this reflected the state's abandonment of the national unity and reconciliation process, which he denied.)
Before he died, the last apartheid President FW De Klerk's foundation issued a statement confirming a secret general amnesty deal between his and the new regimes. If this is true, and it hasn't been credibly denied, it points to a situation in which members of the old order continue to exert a mysterious stranglehold over the nation today. And, if there's an agreement on non-accountability, what else has been agreed upon – and why?
Walus may be entitled to justice, but those who were brutalised by apartheid security forces, from Imam Haron to the Cradock Four to Nokuthula Simelane, and their families, are no less entitled to justice.
Walus committed a heinous crime, and many would like to see him rot in jail.
Had he walked free into a society that had adopted restitution, redress and accountability as critical means to effect national unity and reconciliation, as proposed by the TRC, his release would have caused less outrage.
In the circumstances, his walking free embodies the imbalance of post-apartheid justice.
- Brett Herron, GOOD Secretary-General & Member of the National Assembly.
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