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