A parole bid by a prisoner who was sentenced to life imprisonment over 22 years ago has highlighted the plight of thousands of “lifers” who will shortly become eligible for parole, but are battling to get Justice Minister Michael Masutha to make a decision.
An application by one such prisoner, Christo Beukes, who wants to force the minister to either turn down or grant his parole application, was this week postponed indefinitely in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria and the minister given 10 days to file opposing papers.
Beukes’s attorney, Julian Knight, said the reason that was given why the minister wanted to oppose the application was that he was “too busy”, had 300 matters on his desk and could not commit himself to a specific time period within which he would make a decision about parole for Beukes.
Knight said the previous justice minister had undertaken to implement a 2011 court ruling obtained by right-winger Cornelius van Wyk. It declared that prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment before October 1, 2004 had to be considered for parole in terms of the policy which applied at the date of the commission of the crimes. But they were entitled to have their parole dates advanced by credits earned.
In terms of the implementation plan, the minimum detention dates for offenders sentenced to life imprisonment before October 1, 2004, would be 13 years and four months before they could be considered for placement on parole.
Over 4 700 “lifers” were affected by the ruling.
Van Wyk, a member of the right-wing National Socialist Partisans, was in September 1994 sentenced to life imprisonment for three murders in 1991 in Makhado, Limpopo. He was released on day parole early in 2013 after a long legal battle to get the correctional services minister to make a decision about his parole.
Knight said if the justice minister was unable to make a decision with only 300 matters on his desk, he wondered how he would get through the over 4 000 that were now due for consideration.
“It’s ironic that all we’re asking is that he says yes or no … It’s frustrating dealing with these people … It’s purely a tactical ploy on their part to delay the matter.
“The minister cannot justify refusing to do his job. In this case the National Council for Correctional Services did its job and made a decision, but this minister has a habit of vetoing the national council’s recommendations.
“The minister creates his own problem by not accepting the recommendations of the national council – his own advisors,” he said.