A twist in the presidential remission of sentence announced last week could see businessman Sifiso Zulu – currently fighting going to jail for his three-year culpable homicide sentence – spend only mere weeks in jail.
The remission, announced by President Jacob Zuma during Freedom Day celebrations, could see up to 549 days (18 months) falling away.
A paragraph in a Department of Correctional Services guideline for the roll-out of the remission of sentence says that offenders who were sentenced on or before April 27, 2012, and who were released on bail pending appeal, qualify for the six and 12 months special remission of sentence.
This would apply if they reported to jail after April 27, 2012, after exhausting their legal remedies.
Zulu was sentenced in August 2010 and in October was granted leave to appeal. That appeal failed on Friday.
A source at the Department of Correctional Services said Zulu could present his case before the parole board, which would decide on who qualified for the remission.
“He is a suitable candidate. He has no previous convictions,” the source said. “If the board gives him the green light he may only serve two months of his sentence.
“Coupled with the special remission he could also be released on early parole for good behaviour.”
But Zulu will lose this privilege if it is found that he wilfully evaded the justice system by not reporting to serve his sentence yesterday as ordered by the court.
According to the document, those convicted of aggressive crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, public violence, child abuse, firearm-related crimes, sexual crimes and drug-related crimes, will not qualify for remission.
Prisoners still at large after escaping or absconding also do not qualify.
Meanwhile, acting KZN Judge President, Achmat Jappie, has dismissed all the fuss around Zulu allegedly not being informed that he had lost the appeal against his sentence.
“The registrar of the Pietermaritzburg High Court should have given Zulu’s legal team notice that judgment was to be handed down,” Jappie said.
“In the event they were not timeously informed, the registrar, by (today), would serve Zulu’s attorney with a notice that his appeal was dismissed. He would then have 48 hours to hand himself over to prison authorities. If he fails to do so, a warrant will be issued for his arrest.
“It’s as simple as that.”
Yesterday, Zulu’s attorney, Lonwabo Dandala, told the Daily News that he would be urgently approaching the KZN Judge President’s office to complain that neither he, nor his client, had been informed of the judgment.
However, Jappie said Zulu also had the option to seek relief in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
“If he opts for this, then he would apply for his bail to be extended. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice sometimes grind very slowly,” he said. “But if the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) acts, the matter could be expedited quickly.”
In 2008 Zulu, driving a BMW X5, jumped a red traffic light and hit a Colt Mitsubishi double cab bakkie carrying 14 church-goers at the Masabalala Yengwa (NMR) Avenue/Somtseu Road intersection. He was found to be responsible for the deaths of two people and injuring 12.
Commenting on the special remission of sentence, criminologist Professor Rudolph Zinn said he was not in favour of it.
The special remission of sentence was put in place to reduce overpopulation at prisons and as a token of goodwill by the government, Zinn said.
“This process nullifies the sentences meted out by presiding officers in respect of crimes committed. It is not in the interest of justice. Sentencing is meant to be a deterrent to the offender and to other people,” he said.
“I believe for a remission of sentence, the offender must petition the chief justice in his or her individual capacity. If that fails, then he/she must go to the president’s office.”
Zinn added that it was also not fair to the victims of crime.
“It makes them feel like government has no control of the crime and people can get away with anything. If Zulu does qualify for this, imagine the grief it would cause to the victims’ families who have been waiting for justice since 2008.”
A senior criminology lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Nirmala Gopal, said the special remission – without a well thought-out post release programme to stop offenders getting into trouble again – could send the wrong message to the community.
“It could threaten society’s view on the credibility of the administration of justice in South Africa,” Gopal said.
There was no blanket approach to remissions, she said. “One may only hope that as part of the pre-release assessment every individual’s biological, sociological and psychological constituency will inform the decisions.”
”From an academic perspective the government should look to ways of reducing crime rather than freeing criminals (to prevent overcrowding),” Gopal said.
“This is a more genuine approach. Understanding the real causes of crime from a bio-socio-psychological model is critical in reducing crime.”