South Africa

Crime & Coronavirus

Rapist tennis star Bob Hewitt’s parole hearing to go ahead during Covid-19 prison lockdown

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa putting a bar on prison visits for 30 days on Sunday 15 March when he declared a State of Disaster in South Africa due to the global coronavirus outbreak, the parole hearing of disgraced tennis star and convicted rapist Bob Hewitt will go ahead on March 24, the Department of Correctional Services confirmed. The hearing will be held at the North End Prison in Port Elizabeth.

A parole hearing for a former champion tennis player, tennis instructor and convicted rapist Bob Hewitt has been scheduled at Port Elizabeth’s North End prison – and despite an instruction by President Cyril Ramaphosa that no visits to South African prisons will be allowed in the next 30 days, one of his victims and her lawyer are determined to attend.

In 2015, at the age of 75, Hewitt, a retired champion tennis player and instructor, was convicted on two counts of rape of two girls aged about 12 and 13 and one count of indecent assault of a 17-year-old girl. The rapes were committed in the early 1980s and the sexual assault in 1994.

He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for each rape conviction and two years’ imprisonment for the sexual assault. Two years of each of the rape sentences were suspended on condition that Hewitt pays R100,000 to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to be used by the government in the fight against the abuse of women and children. His effective prison sentence was six years. He went to jail only in September 2016 after a series of appeals.

In September 2019 the Parole Board ruled that he should be released on parole which would expire on September 2022. This decision was overturned by the parole review board after a panel chaired by Judge Siraj Desai decided that Hewitt’s victims were not given a chance to participate in a restorative justice process.

Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the scheduled sitting of the Parole Board to hear Hewitt’s application was in line with a court order.

“We will ensure that preventive measures are put in place to prevent transmission of the coronavirus,” he added.

On Sunday 15 March President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the global pandemic caused by the virus a State of Disaster in South Africa and among other restrictions announced that no visits to prisons will be allowed for the next 30 days. This was backed up by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola, who said in a follow-up press conference on Monday that they will not be “taking any risks” and had started the process to sanitise all prisons.

An attorney for the three survivors, Tania Koen, said one of her clients lives overseas and one has decided not to attend. A third client, who went by the name of Olivia in the court proceedings, will drive from Johannesburg to attend the hearing.

“She was conscious of the president’s request to avoid unnecessary domestic travel, so she will be driving down,” Koen said.

Nxumalo said the Department of Correctional Services had initially made an offer to the victims to participate in the victim-offender-dialogue session through video-conferencing. This offer did not enjoy favourable feedback.  There was then a request for the department to finance the transportation costs to PE for the victims.

“It must be stated that this is not supported by our policies, but we committed that we will find means to accommodate such a request. This demonstrates the extent to which we were willing to support the victims to attend the VOD session,” said Nxumalo.

Koen said they disputed this.

“We first received information from the department that Hewitt would agree to a victim-offender-dialogue if all his victims were present in person. I wrote back to them asking why they were allowing an offender to dictate the terms of the meeting. Judge Siraj Desai then ordered that the dialogue with the one survivor, living overseas, must be done via Skype or a similar programme.”

She said they received a response from the department that all victims are responsible for their own costs if they wish to attend a parole hearing.

“They will have to make special provision for us to attend,” Koen said.

Apart from the emotional turmoil the parole hearing was now causing, Koen said Olivia now had to deal with the extra stress of Covid-19 risks.

“The least they can do is change the venue,” she said. “It is unfair to expect us to come there.”

She said though Olivia would attend the parole hearing, they would also make written representations. MC

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