Without having spent a day in a cell, former president Jacob Zuma has been granted medical parole, approved by National Commissioner of Correctional Services Arthur Fraser — Zuma’s associate and former spy boss — just weeks before the expiration of Fraser’s contract, writes MedicalBrief.
Fraser's contract will expire on 25 September and is not likely to be renewed. It is claimed he overrode the Medical Parole Advisory Committee in making his decision.
Zuma was moved to an private hospital within days of being admitted to prison, “as he still enjoys presidential privileges”. His stay, so far, has cost R398,271 so far, according to the prisons’ authority. The service is “engaged in discussions” on payment to the unnamed hospital group.
Zuma’s medical parole means that he will complete the remainder of the sentence in the system of community corrections, according to a Correctional Services statement. “He must comply with a specific set of conditions and will be subjected to supervision until his sentence expires.”
Zuma was given a 15-month sentence for refusing to testify before the State Capture Inquiry. He was jailed on 8 July after being found to be in contempt of an order of the Constitutional Court and spent most of the next two months in the hospital wing of the Estcourt Correctional Services Centre before being transferred to a medical facility for a routine check-up that turned into an extended stay for an illness that has not been specified.
Correctional Services said Zuma will be released when doctors discharge him from hospital. Spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said, “[Zuma] must comply with a specific set of conditions and will be subjected to supervision until his sentence expires.”.
“Medical parole's eligibility for Mr Zuma is impelled by a medical report received by the Department of Correctional Services. Apart from being terminally ill and physically incapacitated, inmates suffering from an illness that severely limits their daily activity or self-care can also be considered for medical parole.”
“You will have other people who will, after (they) receive medical care, continue to survive,” Nxumalo said, but that survival should not be used as grounds to mistrust the system.
Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen said the decision made a mockery of the justice system. He pointed out that after the granting of “unlawful medical parole” to Zuma’s friend and associate Schabir Shaik in 2009, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services unanimously supported the amendment of section 79 of the Correctional Matters Amendment Act, to stipulate that the minister must establish a medical advisory board to provide an independent medical report to the National Commissioner and parole board, or the minister, as the case may be, in addition to a medical report.
“A report on the health status of any prisoner must be subject to the recommendation by an independent board to confirm, in truth, that a prisoner is indeed deserving of medical parole. Given that Jacob Zuma publicly refused to be examined by an independent medical professional, let alone a medical advisory board, this decision is a violation of the Act and therefore unlawful,” Steenhuisen said. He also pointed out the parole was granted by someone who has close ties with Zuma. “It should also be noted that this medical parole was granted to Zuma by his former spy boss, Arthur Fraser – a man allegedly deeply implicated in the corruption of the State Security Agency and accused of running an illegal parallel intelligence structure.”
Steenhuisen said he would be submitting an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act for the records of the parole board, to establish what criteria the Department of Correctional Services used to determine Zuma’s eligibility for medical parole. “I will also request that the Justice & Correctional Services Committee summon Arthur Fraser to explain to Parliament his decision to grant this medical parole in direct contravention of the Act,” Steenhuisen said.
COPE’s Dennis Bloem, a former chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services while he was still an ANC member, said the decision was “totally disgusting” and “made a mockery of our parole system”. “It is very clear that Zuma has received preferential treatment since he was incarcerated in July, Bloem said despite an assurance by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, assuring the nation that Zuma would not receive preferential treatment.
Beeld reports that lobby group AfriForum’s deputy head Ernst Roets saying its lawyers are already drafting an urgent application to get more details of Zuma’s health. Nicole Fritz, of Freedom Under Law, notes it is understandable that the public is sceptical about Zuma’s poor health as he appeared in public dancing and singing in front of his supporters just before he went to jail. Given the scepticism, Fritz says, the state might have a duty to explain the grounds upon which medical parole was granted.
Daily Maverick reports that Zuma had to have one or more of 23 specific medical conditions to be granted medical parole and this condition had to have been confirmed by the Medical Advisory Parole Board.Correctional Services will neither name nor confirm whether such a board was convened. Nor would Nxumalo answer any questions about this or provide the current medical parole committee membership list to the media.
Before an amendment to the Correctional Services Act in 2012, medical parole was only granted if a prisoner were terminally ill, but after the amendment, the grounds for medical parole were liberalised, Masters candidate George Aloysius Pillay said in a 2019 thesis on medical parole for The University of the Western Cape. “In terms of the amendment, the application for release on medical parole may be brought by a medical practitioner, or the inmate himself, or a person acting on behalf of the inmate,” he writes.
“The written medical report must include, inter alia, a diagnosis and a prognosis of the terminal illness or physical incapacity of the inmate; an indication as to whether the physical incapacity is of such a nature and extent that it limits the inmate’s daily activity and ability to take care of himself, and advance reasons as to why medical parole should be considered. A Medical Advisory Parole Board shall provide an independent medical report in addition,” writes Pillay. The case of Zuma’s medical parole now rests on this independent medical report to which the DA has requested access.
Business Day reports that constitutional law expert Professor Warren Friedman, from the University of KZN, said the medical parole decision, while legal, has major political implications and sends a message that if one is influential and has the means, one can exhaust all avenues under the law to find an easy way out. “It does create the impression that powerful members of our society are able to utilise legal mechanisms to their advantage in a way that ordinary people cannot. This also creates the unfortunate perception that the law primarily serves the rich and powerful.”
Political analyst Protas Madlala said he has yet to be convinced the health of the former president is at stake. “This has nothing to do with health. This is about politics. The ANC is in trouble financially and is administratively collapsed. It has everything to do with the upcoming elections.”
IOL reports that the Jacob Zuma Foundation has welcomed the decision. Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said this was an indication that there was “some humanness” in the justice system.
“This was a decision taken by not one, but two teams of doctors from Correctional Services and the SA military. It ticks the box of a second opinion, but we will still study the conditions under which he will be released,” he said.
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