The Politics of Parole or Forgiveness?

Last week Justice Minister, Michael Masutha, announced that notorious apartheid era killer Eugene de Kock would walk free. Masutha said that this was “in the interests of nation building.” At the same time he denied parole to Clive Derby-Lewis (who was involved in the killing of Chris Hani in 1993) saying that he questioned his medical parole application and that he had not shown remorse. Apparently de Kock had.

During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings, de Kock described how he kidnapped, tortured, maimed and murdered over 100 anti-apartheid activists. What he described was nothing short of barbaric. He was sent to prison for two life terms and a further 212 years (on a number of charges which included fraud and drug-related ones) in 1996. Twenty years later he is a free man.

It is no secret that politics plays a role in parole in South Africa. Convicted fraudster and close friend of President Zuma, Schabir Schaik, was granted medical parole for his “serious” condition two years and four months into his 15-year sentence. He is still alive and kicking and reportedly plays golf regularly in Durban. Join the dots…

De Kock’s case is different. He was granted parole because he apparently has reached out to the families of his victims, cooperated with authorities in recovering the bodies of his victims and has shown remorse. What is most insightful, however, is the response that some of his victim’s families have made. De Kock, for example, killed Sandra Mama’s husband Glenack in 1992 when their youngest child was just 8-months old. She and her family visited de Kock in prison. Her comment on the parole was “I think his release will once again help with the reconciliation process.” Her daughter, Candace, describes De Kock’s response when she asked him one day if he had forgiven himself: “He dabbed his eyes and looked down, then he looked me in the eye and said, ‘When you’ve done what I’ve done, how do you forgive yourself.”

Marcia Khoza also pardoned De Kock for killing her mother, ANC activist Portia Shabangu. Shabangu was killed in an ambush in Swaziland in 1989. Khoza was 5-years old when her mother was murdered; she grew up not knowing the circumstances around her mothers’ death. Khoza visited De Kock in prison so that she could ask him questions that were “bothering her” about the circumstances surrounding the murder. She then forgave De Kock publicly.

Although – and in many ways understandably – not all of the families of De Kock’s victims were happy surely this gesture by the SA government and victim’s families is nothing short of magnanimous and a sign of God’s spirit at work bringing healing to a broken society?

SA is a country with many problems – we have a long way to go. Yet the words of forgiveness and the gesture by the SA government are nothing short of magnanimous, a lesson in forgiveness. The elephant in the room is whether white South Africa grasps this gesture and will consider: have we done enough? Politics of Parole or forgiveness? This time it seems as if it is forgiveness.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church. @rpollittsj
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