The Durban mother and daughter convicted in the sensational “fish curry” trial are relishing their freedom, thanks to the Freedom Day presidential remission of sentences.
Pauline Govender and her daughter, Samantha Appalsamy, were released from Westville Prison on Friday.
The mother and daughter were convicted of fraud for falsifying a marriage with their landlord, Munsami Reddy, after he had died of poisoning, to inherit the house they had been renting. They were sentenced to three years imprisonment in March last year.
During the trial in August 2008 Govender had initially been accused of lacing a fish curry she had cooked with a poisonous substance, and offering it to Reddy.
But she was cleared when Govender’s former brother-in-law, Paul Aaron, confessed to the poisoning. He is serving a 20-year sentence.
Both mother and daughter were acquitted of murder and robbery.
After Reddy died, Govender had approached a pastor to fake a marriage certificate, which showed that Appalsamy, then 21, had been married to Reddy, 60.
The mother and daughter, who had been in custody since their arrest in 2009, qualified for early release as part of the special remission of sentences announced by President Jacob Zuma on April 27.
They were fetched on Friday by Govender’s parents, who hired a car to go to the prison.
As they drove out of the prison gates the two women relished the sight of the sea.
“It was breathtaking, a sight we always took for granted. It just brought a smile to my face,” she said. “The next best thing was eating my mother’s food. It just warmed our hearts and I knew everything was going to be okay.”
Govender said that while their period of incarceration had been difficult, they got through prison life with the support of the warders, fellow inmates, the principal of the Teamwork Bible College for the Nation South Africa, Pastor Sigamoney Gopaul, and a spiritual worker at the prison.
“We were treated extremely well. We spent our time learning skills such as dressmaking,” Govender said. “I am also close to completing my diploma in theology.”
Soft-spoken Appalsamy said prison was not as tough as she had expected: “Fortunately my mom and I shared a cell. Prison is all about rehabilitation. There is no bullying and fighting. The discipline is very good.”
She said food was ample and medical treatment was on hand if they took ill at any time.
For both woman the hardest part of prison was being separated from their family.
“I have five children and I longed for them in prison,” Govender said.
“Not being able to spend time with them was difficult. But, Samantha and I kept the faith. Our prayers were answered when President Zuma announced the special amnesty for prisoners.
“We went down on our knees and thanked God for giving us a second chance.”
They said they wished they could turn back the clock and reclaim the three years they had lost.
“We walked out of prison with nothing,” she said. “We are living with my parents in Phoenix. We are still on parole and until that is over later this year, we are staying put. We have no plans to go back to prison.”
Strict parole conditions means they are under house arrest, except from 8am to noon on a Sunday.
Govender claimed that when they were incarcerated and denied bail, all her household goods and clothing had been stolen.
“Our rented house was cleaned out. I don’t even have a teaspoon,” she said. “But, I have opened a case of housebreaking and hopefully I will get some answers.”
Appalsamy said her ambition was to become a lawyer and she wanted to enrol for a law degree.
For Govender, she wants to get her family back and reconcile with her husband, Navindran Govender. He was also charged with murder but was later acquitted.
“We want to get back together for the sake of our kids.”