South Africa

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‘We are not going to Dubai with a suitcase to fetch the Guptas’ – Justice Minister

Justice minister Ronald Lamola. The original photo has been altered. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena/Tiso Blackstar Group)

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola confirmed on Monday that South Africa’s law enforcement chiefs will be using a corruption conference in Abu Dhabi this week to “engage” their Dubai counterparts on extraditing the Guptas. But Lamola stressed that the Guptas were unlikely to accompany them back to South Africa.

As first reported by the Sunday Times, a delegation of South Africa’s top law enforcement officials are travelling to the United Arab Emirates this week – ostensibly because a UN conference on tackling corruption is taking place there.

But Justice Minister Ronald Lamola confirmed at a media briefing on Monday that South Africa’s team – which includes head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Shamila Batohi – is also hoping to “engage” with counterparts from Dubai on the topic of the extradition of the Gupta family.

There’s been an extradition treaty which we have signed. It’s not yet been ratified in Dubai,” Lamola told journalists.

The minister said that they did not know why Dubai authorities have yet to ratify the extradition, but added that this was part of the purpose in travelling to the UAE.

If there’s a problem, how can we resolve it?” Lamola said.

Almost everyone who can make a decision [on the extradition] will be there [at the UN conference].”

The Justice Minister stressed, however, that South Africans should not expect instant results.

It’s not like we are going to Dubai with a suitcase to fetch the Guptas. It’s done through the law,” Lamola said.

When the Department of Justice had announced the press briefing, held on Reconciliation Day, many had assumed that the topic in focus would be the extradition of the Guptas. But instead, the topic of the moment was an announcement made earlier the same day by President Cyril Ramaphosa: that the president had decided to shorten the sentences of thousands of South Africa’s convicts.

In response to questions from journalists, Lamola confirmed that two high-profile offenders who will benefit from the remission are the AbaThembu King Dalindyebo, and Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe.

Giving his Reconciliation Day address from Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal, Ramaphosa had said: In celebrating the 25 years of democracy, and in line with established international practice, I have decided, in terms of the Constitution, to grant a special remission of sentence to specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees,” 

Perhaps predicting that this announcement might cause some consternation in as crime-saturated a country in South Africa, it was left to Lamola to issue clarity on the news a few hours later.

The exact details of the remission have yet to be made public.

Lamola said, however: “There will be those who will benefit [from a sentence remission of] 12 months, and an additional 12 months for another category”.

The Justice Minister stressed that none of the offenders who will have their sentences shortened have been convicted of murder or sexual crimes, terrorism, domestic abuse or child abuse. He also said that the vast majority of those who stand to benefit from the remission are already on probation outside prison.

 Dalindyebo and Cekeshe could technically now be released immediately, although the minister said that normal “operational processes” – like recording biometric information – must first be undertaken in this regard.

The incarceration of both King Dalindyebo and Cekeshe has presented a political headache to Ramaphosa’s administration, as pressure has mounted for pardons to be granted to both men.

In Dalindyebo’s case, the lobbying has been from the quarter of traditional leaders, demanding that his conviction for a range of charges including kidnapping and arson be completely expunged.

Civil society has been vocal in calls for the release of #FMF activist Cekeshe, meanwhile. The EFF also led a recent march calling for the freedom of Cekeshe, who has already served two years in prison for trying to set a police van on fire during the 2016 protests.

Some may suspect, as a result, that the mass remission of sentence is aimed primarily at securing the release of Dalindyebo and Cekeshe without the need for a presidential pardon or for mopping up potential political fallout.

Both Ramaphosa and Lamola were at pains to point out, however, that the granting of remissions of sentences has been performed by every South African president post-1994.

Most recently, former president Jacob Zuma granted special remissions to mark Freedom Day in 2012.

Of a total of almost 234 000 convicted offenders in South Africa, Lamola said 14 647 would be eligible for having their sentences shortened. DM

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