763 President Jacob Zuma, his Deputy Kgalema Motlanthe and Mathews Phosa during a press conference at Luthuli House where the top6 was discussing the Malema issue and other organisation matters. 030412. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Prisoners who’ve been declared violent criminals will not be among the thousands of offenders to benefit from remissions of sentences announced by President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings to mark SA’s 18th Freedom Day celebrations yesterday.

Sentenced offenders, people on probation and parolees will benefit.

It is the first time Zuma has used the power granted him by the constitution to decrease sentences.

Previous remissions were granted on the day of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration on May 10, 1994; the first anniversary of democracy on April 27, 1995; to mark Mandela’s 80th birthday on July 18, 1998 and the first year of former president Thabo Mbeki’s second term of office on May 30, 2005.

All sentenced offenders, people on probation and parolees will receive a six-month remission, while sentenced inmates, people on probation and parolees who have not been sentenced for aggressive, sexual, firearm and drug-related offences will get a 12-month special remission.

Zuma said anyone declared a dangerous criminal in terms of Section 286A of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1957 would not benefit.

These were the same terms that applied the last time there was a presidential remission of sentence, in 2005, when 30 704 sentenced offenders were released. Within three months, 131 of them were rearrested after they reoffended.

Details will be given at a briefing by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe in Pretoria today. Justice, correctional services and police officials did not respond to queries yesterday.

Ironically, Zuma’s announcement – to which response was muted – came after opposition party speakers were loudly applauded when they spoke out against crime, greed and corruption and the threat they posed to freedom in SA.

“It is not freedom to kill. It is not freedom to steal. It is not freedom to rape,” said Isaac Mfundisi, president of the United Christian Democratic Party, to applause from the crowd at the Union Buildings.

“It’s freedom to live together harmomiously. That’s what freedom means.”

Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota said the spirit of working together peacefully was “somewhat missing”, even if the days of black people being stopped and possibly arrested while walking past the Union Buildings were long gone.

“We are seeing more and more young people engaging in activities to steal as much money as possible,” he said.

The onus was on everyone to ensure there were “no thieves, no criminals” in government.

PAC leader Letlapa Mphahlele said: “Our freedom is under serious threat from greed, corruption and inefficiency in government.” While there had been gains, like electrifying rural areas, people were still waiting “to make freedom reality”.

DA federal chairman Wilmot James said progress had been made, but more needed to be done to ensure children had education, health services, housing and social protection.

Azapo MP Koti Dikobo noted SA’s “unfinished business” and raised the plight of struggle veterans who were still waiting for support, such as housing, health care and education and training.

President Zuma said SA had become an adult: “The free, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa is coming of age... as it turns 18 years old.”

l Successive National Party governments used to regularly “burst” the jails to ease overcrowding in prisons before 1994.

Overcrowding is still a major problem, with jails carrying 135 percent more prisoners than they were designed to, according to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services’s 2011 annual report. - Weekend Argus