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Johannesburg, Sep 5: Opposition political parties are to raise in Parliament the alleged preferential treatment in granting former president Jacob Zuma medical parole while other prisoners requesting such parole have even died in prison after being refused this. Party representatives said this in a debate on TV channel Newzroom Afrika (sic) on Sunday evening. The Department of Correctional Services announced earlier on Sunday that Zuma is to be released on medical parole less than two months after starting a 15-mnoth sentence for contempt of court, amid speculation as to whether he has a terminal illness.

Medical parole placement for Mr Zuma means that he will complete the remainder of the sentence in the system of community corrections, whereby he must comply with a specific set of conditions and will be subjected to supervision until his sentence expires, the Department of Correctional Services said in a statement. Dennis Bloem of the Cope Party, who was the former chairperson of the oversight committee in Parliament on matters related to the Department of Correctional Services, said Zuma had definitely received preferential treatment from people whom he had appointed to senior positions in this department while he was still president.

Many people applied for medical parole (who) were critically ill. Some of them even died in prison. This thing of Zuma is clearly preferential treatment that Zuma received from his friends in Correctional Services. We will ask the Minister of Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola or the Commissioner, Arthur Fraser, to come to Parliament and to explain. The Minister was assuring the country that he will make sure that Zuma does not receive any preferential treatment. There in front of Estcourt person (where Zuma is jailed) he said so. If this is not preferential treatment, why are they not releasing critically ill inmates that are sitting there? Bloem asked, adding that the Zuma matter was an abuse of the parole system.

Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen said there had not been enough transparency around Zuma’s medical condition to make a call for his parole. There have been many applications from prisoners who were terminally ill that have been turned down and it’s a bit ironic that in this case it has obviously been prioritised and I would say it was a political rather than a medical decision, Steenhuisen said.

(The law) requires the minister to have an independent medical board to advise him. If they are relying on Mr Zuma’s own medical team’s reports, I would venture that that is completely insufficient. We know that Mr Zuma was reluctant to submit himself to independent medical inquiry and therefore we will be asking in Parliament whether this section of the legislation was complied with and whether it was properly implemented, Steenhuisen said. Zuma last week refused to allow independent doctors appointed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to examine him. The NPA is prosecuting Zuma in a graft case that has been going on for almost 15 years.

While in jail, Zuma was first taken to the prison medical wing before being transferred to an external hospital for undisclosed treatments, resulting in him being unable to attend court proceedings last month for the trial. Legal expert Nthabiseng Dubazana said the main requirements of the conditions for medical role appear to have been met, except for the prescription that the prisoner in question should be serving a sentence of not more than 12 months.

The issue of the 12 months imprisonment part is the one that will probably be a bone of contention for most people, but the majority of everything else that has to be considered for a person to be release under medical parole seems like was correctly dealt with, Dubazana said. She was referring to the fact that Zuma’s sentence was for 15 months. Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo earlier said he could not disclose Zuma’s exact condition, but quoted the relevant legislation which allowed for this type of parole.

It has to be someone who is terminally ill or is physically incapacitated, so it’s an inmate whose daily activity is now limited and someone who is unable to afford what we call selfcare. Therefore, that person has to be considered for (parole) placement on medical grounds, Nxumalo told Newzroom Afrika (sic). Nxumalo said the Department had received independent medical reports from both its own doctors and the military doctors from the South African Defence Force recommending the parole.

Zuma, 79, was sentenced in June after losing his appeal in the country’s apex court for his consistent refusal to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where a number of witnesses have implicated him in enabling corruption. Zuma then handed himself over to authorities to start his sentence on July 7.

This sparked protests which rapidly escalated into massive violence, looting and the deaths of over 300 people in two of South Africa’s main provinces. The Jacob Zuma Foundation welcomed the parole decision. It just shows that there is some humaneness in the system, but on the other hand it also indicates the precariousness state of President Zuma’s health, Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said.

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