Lifer forced to high court over parole status

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LOUISE FLANAGAN

louise.flanagan@inl.co.za

A PRISONER serving a life sentence has resorted to court action to get a minister to make a yes-or-no decision.

And thousands of other lifers are believed to be still waiting for the same decisions.

Convicted murderer Cornelius van Wyk brought legal action against the minister of correctional services, demanding a decision on whether he may be granted parole. The parole board recommended last year that he be placed on parole.

“I have already served 17 years and eight months of my sentence,” said Van Wyk, an inmate of Leeuwkop Medium C prison in Midrand, in his court papers.

He said that in November, first the Leeuwkop case management committee and then its parole board recommended that he be placed on parole. The recommendation went to the minister, who “failed, neglected and/or refused” to consider it.

Letters from his lawyer, Julian Knight, to the ministry were ignored.

Now Van Wyk has approached the Pretoria High Court to order the minister to make a decision on his parole. The matter is due in court on Tuesday.

The minister changed last week from Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to S’bu Ndebele.

Van Wyk murdered three people in October 1991 in Makhado when he was 20 and part of the ultra-right-wing National Socialist Partisans.

He and an accomplice, now dead, shot and slit the throats of domestic worker Makwarela Dobani, her husband Wilson and householder Maria Roux while robbing them of guns.

In September 1994 he was convicted and sentenced to three life terms.

When he was jailed, the law allowed lifers to apply for parole, with a maximum of good behaviour time-reduction “credits”, after serving 13 years and four months. Current law allows lifers’ parole applications after serving a minimum of 20 years.

Last year, the Pretoria High Court ordered Correctional Services to apply pre-2004 parole laws to lifers sentenced before then, which resulted in August in the department undertaking to consider 4 669 lifers for earlier placement on parole. Van Wyk was one of them.

Knight, who often deals with parole matters, spoke of his frustration over the department’s slow decision-making, which had resulted in prisoners resorting to legal action, as well as the department’s lack of resources and ministerial interference in parole board decisions.

He said parole boards were subject to constant interference by the minister, including suspension after making unpopular decisions.

He added that the case management committees that work with offenders could not get the experts needed for parole hearings because of budget cuts.

“There simply are not enough psychologists and social workers in the employ of the department for them to comply with their own B-Orders that require offenders to be profiled and given sentence plans within six months of their imprisonment and then to be monitored and evaluated thereafter,” said Knight.

“I am told that for the Correctional Services Department countrywide, there are 44 psychologists for our entire prison population of approximately 150 000 prisoners, and the vacancies for social workers is 35 percent.”

He said psychologists weren’t needed for all prisoners, but they “most certainly” were for violent and sexual offenders.

“If the politicians want Correctional Services to work, they should adequately fund it, employ more qualified people to do their jobs and then leave them to perform their tasks in terms of the delegated authority that they have; and then when they have made a decision, to support them rather than to constantly interfere with the process every time they make a controversial decision.”

The ministry failed to respond to repeated requests from The Star in the past week for an update on the progress of the lifers’ parole applications.


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