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Jackie Selebi’s release from prison after 229 days has established beyond doubt that political connectivity is a ticket to preferential treatment in our prisons.
The dirty police commissioner’s medical parole, announced on Friday, may be within the recently changed law. But it spotlights vast new leeway in deciding who can be allowed out, and that certain convicts are dealt with more rapidly than others.
Now prisoners may be considered for medical parole if they are physically incapacitated “so as to severely limit daily activity or inmate self-care”. The risk of re-offending must also be low, and arrangements must be in place for the parolee’s treatment on the outside.
This is far, far milder and wider than being in the last gasps – the applicable law in Schabir Shaik’s time. Imaginative prisoners and lawyers will no doubt exploit the new vagueness to the full. As will those with political pull.
And if they fail, the Shaik and Selebi cases will no doubt be often cited, and justifiably so.
In Selebi’s case, the sceptics were right. From the moment he was sent away for 15 years, they predicted early freedom. They had lost faith in state processes after the grubby Shaik episode, and they forecast a repeat.
They were right. Is this what our government has come to – that those who respond negatively to most official moves, who reflexively predict the worst, are right?
Equally dismaying is the possibility of a government which is unable to see the inconsistencies of its actions. More frightening than a blunt government, though, is the possibility that it may not care about public opinion, and will do whatever it pleases.
Now the Shaik watch becomes the Selebi watch. It has already started, with at least one newspaper speaking to hospital staff. We wish the ex-police chief no harm, but any hint of recuperation or normal activity will worsen the stink.