South Africa

ANALYSIS

Freedom for Alison’s attackers reignites ‘lifer’ parole debate

Freedom for Alison’s attackers reignites ‘lifer’ parole debate
Rape survivor and writer Alison Botha during an interview on 24 February 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Yunus Mohamed)

As controversy grows over the decision to free the two men responsible for the gruesome 1994 attack on Alison Botha, Correctional Services officials are adamant that they were simply following the letter of the law.

‘The day I hoped and prayed would never come. When I was asked, ‘How will you feel if they ever get parole?” my immediate answer was always – I’m hoping I’ll never find out.”

This is the only public comment made by Alison Botha, on her Facebook page, since the news broke.

It was announced on Tuesday, 5 July that Frans du Toit and Theuns Kruger – the two men who left Botha for dead alongside a Gqeberha highway 28 years ago – have been released on parole.

Botha’s attack was so brutal, the chances of her survival so small, and her recovery so miraculous, that it is a case which has received international attention in the years since.

In South Africa, the story gripped the nation for other reasons, too. 

The horrific attack on Botha happened during a period of heightened national anxiety and political uncertainty, on the cusp of the transition to democracy. The suggestion that perpetrators Du Toit and Kruger identified as Satanists added a morbidly fascinating dimension in a country where pockets of the white population, in particular, were caught up in what would subsequently be identified as a kind of Satanic Panic.

As has now been widely remembered, the judge who sentenced Du Toit and Kruger to life in prison for the attack in August 1995 explicitly expressed his hope that they would never be released. But three years later, the revised Correctional Services Act of 1998 would change that – allowing for prison lifers to be granted parole after having served a minimum term.

alison attackers parole

Convicted rapists Theuns Kruger and Frans du Toit. (Photo: Supplied | Sharpened using AI)

Parole for lifers consistently controversial

Almost every instance of parole granted to an inmate in a high-profile South African case involving a life sentence has been divisive.

Probably the most controversial of all was the release of Struggle hero Chris Hani’s assassin, Janusz Walus, on parole in December 2022: a decision which ultimately had to be handed down by the Constitutional Court. In fact, Walus had already been eligible for parole for some 15 years before his release.

The same is true for Botha’s attackers, who had been applying for parole for more than a decade.

In 2012, it was first reported that Du Toit and Kruger would be able to benefit from another change in legislation – which would allow all prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment before 2004 to apply for parole if they had already served 13 years and four months of their sentences.

In both the Hani and Botha cases, what has almost certainly served to inflame public opinion on the matter is the vocal disapproval from those closest to the cases – Chris Hani’s widow Limpho, and Alison Botha herself – to the idea of parole for the perpetrators.

It has also not been unusual for public petitions to circulate, mobilising opinion against parole. This was the case when one of the perpetrators of the Sizzlers Massacre – the worst homophobic mass murder in South African history, where nine patrons of a Sea Point massage parlour were killed in 2003 – became eligible for parole in 2021.

Wrote petition signatory Quinton Taylor: “I’m signing because I’m the sole survivor of the Sizzlers Massacre and I’m disgusted at learning of this.”

Sizzlers killer Adam Woest has twice been turned down for parole, but will undoubtedly eventually receive it – in accordance with the law.

What serves to muddy the water over these high-profile parole cases is the apparent lack of clarity from authorities over both the timeline of events and the exact criteria used to make the decisions. 

Correctional Services officials have repeatedly attempted to stress, however, that the feelings of victims or family members are only one factor to be considered – and clearly not the supreme factor.

In the case of Du Toit and Kruger, a statement from the Department of Correctional Services attempted to lay out the stringency of the process leading up to parole. 

Profiles of the inmates are prepared by a case management committee, which submits them to the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board, from where the profiles are sent to the National Council for Correctional Services.

This body is “chaired by a judge of the High Court and [is composed of] other professionals such as magistrates, attorneys, clinical psychologists, social workers, criminologists, medical doctors, professors and members of the public”, the statement read.

The profiles recommended for parole are then sent to the Minister of Justice for sign-off.

“This is not just about an inmate completing programmes or having served the minimum required time. Various structures study all the material before them and [the] assessment reports. Placing a lifer back into the community has to satisfy all the structures in the parole consideration process in terms of rehabilitation and the risk involved,” stated the department.

It also stressed that Du Toit and Kruger will be “subjected to supervision for the rest of their natural life”.

Families and victims left in the dark?

An additional controversial issue, however, has been the suggestion on a number of occasions that those most affected by the perpetrators’ crimes have not been given adequate prior warning of their release.

In 2022, victims of the 1996 Worcester bombing told Daily Maverick that they had not been informed by authorities that Boeremag bomber, Jan van der Westhuizen, had been released on parole. (Shortly after being quietly freed in April 2022, Van der Westhuizen attempted to flee to Namibia, but was detained soon afterwards.)

In some cases, authorities have cited security reasons for the secrecy around some parole releases.

On Wednesday, the DA’s Glynnis Breytenbach claimed to the Cape Town Press Club that Botha had not received prior notification that Du Toit and Kruger were being released, alleging that Botha had learnt about it “in the press”.

Contacted for comment by Daily Maverick, Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo was adamant that this was not the case.

“I personally verified with the officials before releasing the statement [that] the victim was notified,” Nxumalo said.

High-profile releases mask reality of backlog

Although these high-profile cases might foster the public perception that lifers are constantly being released after relatively short sentences, the reality is quite different.

In 2021, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (Jics) drew attention to the disproportionate number of inmates in South African prisons serving life terms: 12% of the total prison population. During 2020/21, of the 4,494 lifers eligible for parole, just 36 were released.

The effects, in terms of prison overcrowding, are dire.

Jics head Edwin Cameron wrote at the time that “too few who deserve release are granted it”.

Cameron recommended: “Lifers should be rigorously considered for parole when appropriate – and the outcome, with reasons, should be communicated clearly and promptly.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mervyn Bennun says:

    Thankfully, the death sentence is gone in South Africa. In addressing the release of the man who shot Chris Hani, the Constitutional Court said: “It is only if there is a willingness to protect the worst and the weakest amongst us, that all of us can be secure that our own rights will be protected.” It is easy to understand the concerns expressed by victims and their families. These are part of the long term harm inflicted by the criminal, and this is damage that can never be repaired. We are struggling desperately to develop an humane society in which mercy is possible. Surely, the capacity to allow parole is better than a South Africa with a penal system which is motivated by hate and revenge? It must also be remembered that, for the rest of their natural lives, parolees are watched and supervised and can be recalled to prison.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      As a tax payer, contributing to the ongoing care of these useless criminals, I would like the Death Sentence to be re instated! In my opinion, Prisons, especially in South Africa, do not offer rehabilitation – they are merely there to contain the guilty until such time they are released to invariably commit more offences. Parole for violent criminals who would face the Death Sentence ( if it still existed) is counter productive and dangerous.

      • Peter Vos says:

        Jane, you really believe the State, any state – including our very own abject excuse for one – has the right to take the life of one of its subjects?

        Be careful what you wish for

        • Jane Crankshaw says:

          Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – still allowed in SA surprisingly!

          • Johann Olivier says:

            … and Ms. Crankshaw, so is bushboyvos. He said nothing about your opinion. He merely stated his. (As an aside, the cost of actually executing someone often – almost always? – exceeds the cost of detention. Not that financial considerations should enter into the meting out of justice.)

      • Epsilon Indi says:

        It’s interesting :- you defend your right to your own opinion, but in so doing you endorse removing another person’s right to life – seems somewhat contradictory. Human rights ( the right to life is one of them ) are INALIENABLE. It’s horrible to use taxes as a justification for killing a human being. One must avoid being cavalier about another person’s life, all life ( not only human life ) is precious, even a criminal’s life.

    • Rob Fisher says:

      Rubbish.
      The number of parolees that re-offend immediately, is a high percentage!
      Save the money, hang them immediately after conviction. No Stalingrad defences and appeals.

    • Jane Quin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I too am fully against the death penalty. My concern though, with regard to parole of violent perpetrators, is the lack of meaningful communication with the victims and their families. I know the feeling from experience. As part of building the national humanity we yearn for, I think fuller processes of engagement are required around release of violent criminals. Perhaps with at least as many resources as goes into an original trial. I don’t think we can only do things half way. At the very least what this could do, is build in safety reassurances for the victims and the public through awareness of the details of reasons for the parole and how ‘watching and supervision’ will be executed and managed. In a country with such low institutional trustworthiness, such a process of citizen inclusion might really help us find our way forward better than we’re doing now.

      • Enver Klein says:

        I don’t think the death penalty is the actual issue. The issue is “consequence of action”. When thinking of perpetrating a crime, there should be a level of fear of the consequence of being caught after committing the crime. In South Africa there appears to be “No Fear” of serving jail time.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    … Which all just proves the old adage that the law is an ass. Jailing people for life is not just to punish them, (although that punishment is richly deserved,) not just to protect society, but also to empower the victims and free them from the worry that will always be at the back of their minds. Our “fantastic” constitution is very selective, and completely unfair on decent people, while it protects the evil.

  • Annemarie Hendrikz says:

    Given the recorded numbers of crimes committed by parolees, “for the rest of their natural lives, parolees are watched and supervised” is not at all comforting. Yes to a humane society and mercy but this capacity for brutality should not be wittingly released into a society already fractured by violence, racism and misogyny. My thoughts are with you Alison Botha and I do hope the parole board rejects this application.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    All of us who read of these crimes are also victims of the climate of fear this knowledge generates. I can’t believe that released criminals are effectively monitored sufficient to protect the rest of us.

  • Alley Cat says:

    Whilst I fully understand that victims don’t want their attackers to be released, the law should take its course. I am totally against the death penalty. One only needs to look at the number of cases in the US where alleged criminals on death row have been set free when new evidence is introduced. I shudder to think how many executions have been carried out on innocent victims.
    Fixing our prisons to properly rehabilitate offenders will solve the problem NOT reintroduction of the death penalty. I totally agree with Justice Cameron.

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    They were just following the law. Fair enough people are entitled according to the law to receive parole.

    But they didn’t apply the law in the case of Walus.

    In that case, the opposition from the victim or the victim’s family takes precedence. Why doesn’t it in this case.

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    Given the corruption and ineptitude of the ANC and its cadres would any sane person want to give them the power to terminate a person’s life ? Can you trust cretins like the ANC cadres to handle such authority with dignity and justice ? I can’t fathom why victims suddenly think they have the right to specify how perpetrators are treated, the state deals with criminals not the private citizen. It was very obvious from the fury, hate and spite that exploded from Chris Hani’s widow that victims are not able to think objectively about these matters which is exactly why they can not be allowed to dictate the treatment of perpetrators.

  • Anne Lloyd-Hughes says:

    I started my 20-year career in the SAPS in Port Elizabeth. I was in PE the night Alison was attacked. One of the crime scenes etched forever on my mind. For her sake and safety, they should not be granted parole. If only 12% of the total prison population are serving life sentences, why not focus on other inmates for parole if over-population is the problem? I have witnessed some horrific crimes in South Africa and few come close to the vicious, sadistic, inhumane attack on her that night. For society’s sake they should remain incarcerated.

    • Katharine Ambrose says:

      100% agree. Society needs protection from monstrous perpetrators such as these.
      They forfeited their right to live among the rest of us that night.

      • Ingrid Kemp says:

        Agreed. The most vital question being, are they Truly rehabilitated ? Someone must assess whether they are mentally deranged & Incapable of rehabilitation. Monsters in my opinion.

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