Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha during a press conference on his meeting with Fees Must Fall activist Bonginkosi Khanyile, Tshedimosetso House. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency/ANA

PRETORIA - The African National Congress (ANC) on Monday welcomed the intervention of Justice Minister Michael Masutha in a bid to find a reprieve for student activists who were imprisoned or facing charges related to #FeesMustFall protests.

"The ANC henceforth welcomes the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Cde Michael Masutha’s intervention on proposed amnesty for #FeesMustFall students," the ruling party said in a statement issued by national spokesperson Pule Mabe.

"We further applaud the minister's commitment to expedite these processes within the legal framework, while also appreciating the constitutional processes that must be adhered to. However we must stress the need for urgency in this regard."

The ANC emphasised that it does not condone violence, which marred the students' protests for free higher education.

"We reiterate our earlier stance that the ANC will never condone or promote the destruction of property. The burning of infrastructure, especially libraries and residences destroy the opportunities of students from working class families disadvantaging them from accessing such resources as these are a fundamental requirement to ensure student success," said Mabe.

Earlier on Monday, Masutha said he met the #FeesMustFall activists last week, in a bid to seek a reprieve for the embattled students.

"On the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa I, in my capacity as Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, met with higher education student activists on Friday August the 24th at the Union Buildings who were demanding a general amnesty for their fellow comrades who came into conflict with the law as a result of incidents that occurred during the #FeesMustFall campaign protests," said Masutha.

The Pretoria meeting followed another meeting which the minister had held with another group of students in Cape Town on Wednesday.

"On both occasions, I pointed out that in line with its respect for the principles of separation of powers and the rule of law, the executive branch of government had neither the mandate nor the inclination to favour any person or group of people with a specific or general reprieve outside the existing constitutional and legal framework," said Masutha.

"The criminal justice system provides avenues for various alternatives to outright criminal prosecution which include diversion, mediation and various forms of restorative justice mechanisms. Section 84 (2) J of the Constitution of the Republic confers on the President, among others, the power to grant “pardon[…] or reprieve[s to] offenders and remitting any fines, penalties or forfeitures.”

With respect to pardons, Masutha said his department of justice and constitutional development supports that process by way of facilitating applications and draft memoranda on the basis of which the minister makes a recommendation to the president for decision. 

"In this particular instance, I proposed the following to the students: The students will constitute a delegation which will provide a list of all affected students, i.e. those who are arrested and still in custody or detention, charged or awaiting prosecutorial decision, on trial and sentenced – including those serving custodial sentences in a correctional facility," said Masutha.  

"The Minister has undertaken to assist the students in approaching the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to consider evaluating each case, specifically in order to determine the seriousness or otherwise of the charges, the weight or otherwise of the available evidence and, where appropriate, possibilities of the option for diversion, mediation or other forms of restorative justice in the case of those students who are yet to appear before the courts."

The Justice Minister also undertook to guide the students in making applications to the NPA for the review of prosecutorial decisions in cases of students who are already charged and whose matters are currently on trial.

"The Ministry of Justice will guide the students on the process of compiling applications for presidential pardon for those students seeking to make such applications," said Masutha. 

The minister highlighted that presidential pardons are granted in respect of convicted and sentenced persons only on the basis of the information they provide, and in circumstances where the applicant has shown "good cause". 

He said "under no circumstances can presidential pardon be pre-determined". 

The department said it was ready to begin with the process as soon as the students have submitted their applications with the relevant information.

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African News Agency (ANA)