Parole Application of Mr Almond Nofemela: briefing by Correctional Services Minister
27 Aug 2009
The Minister of Correctional Services, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, issued a statement to inform the nation of her decision to uphold the recommendation of the National Council for Correctional Services (NCCS) that parole be granted to Mr Almond Nofemela, a member of the apartheid era security forces and member of the Vlakplaas hit squad. The Minister explained that she had taken this decision after considering applicable legislation, namely Section 136 (3) of the Correctional Services Act and Section 20(7)(a) of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995. The NCCS had furthermore made attempts to trace the family of the late Johannes Hendrik Lourens in line with the Department's commitment to ensuring restorative justice. Journalists were interested in the consultations that the Minister had made with families of victims of the politically motivated murders committed by Mr Nofemela and whether he was at risk of any backlash from society in general because of his involvement with the apartheid regime. The Minister expressed the hope that communities would focus on nation building and healing in the spirit of reconciliation and national progress. She was also confident that Mr Nofemela would receive support from those closest to him upon his release and that he would be able to secure employment and re-integrate himself into society as a fully rehabilitated offender who had become a model prisoner during his 22 years in prison.
Q: A journalist asked the Minister what had transpired at her meeting with Mr Almond Nofemela.
A: The Minister responded that it had been important for her to meet with Mr Nofemela, firstly to have an appreciation of his own feelings since there had been a court application and she had to sensitize him to the fact that she would soon be taking a decision on his parole request. She obviously had not divulged to him what the nature of the decision was going to be. It had also been important to hear what kind of courses he had undergone during his term in prison. The purpose of the meeting was also to create a relationship with the person concerned and as would be recalled there was an umbilical cord between the Department of Correctional Services and Mr Nofemela. The Minister was happy that she had met with Mr Nofemela who obviously had been rather shaken and completely taken aback. Mr Nofemela had expressed his appreciation and felt honored to have met with the Minister. It had been a good meeting considering that this was an inmate who had spent 22 years of his life behind bars and had been trying through the parole system to come out of prison but unfortunately was not be granted parole during the past two years. The Minister was happy that she had had that interaction with him and she now had an appreciation of his conduct and the activities that he was involved in during his stay in prison. The officers in Pretoria Central Prison would attest to the fact that Mr Nofemela had been a model prisoner. They had even started to allow him to engage in community outreach programmes where he would address young people about the dangers of involvement in crime and drug abuse. He was also active in a programme on HIV and AIDS both inside and outside prison.
Q: A journalist asked whether the Minister had shared her decision at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 26 August, 2009. The journalist wanted to know how the Minister's colleagues in Cabinet had reacted, particularly the Minister of Communications.
A: The Minister responded that she had informed her colleagues in Cabinet and they were aware of the decision she had taken and they supported it. Minister Nyanda in particular, who had been a commander in the MK and whose brother had been subsequently killed in Swaziland by the Vlakplaas hit squad, had amazed the Minister with his reaction. He had completely “removed himself” from the situation and was not emotional about it and had been very honest and keen for the matter to be resolved. He had been caught up in the war in the same way that many of the young people of his day had been in the struggle against the apartheid regime. There were no ill feelings and there was no bitterness and people appreciated the fact that this man who had revealed everything about covert operations. Not only had he done that but he had also gone through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process which was very grueling and exhausting for those who had appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Therefore as sensitive as this matter was people appreciated that perhaps it was time for him to be released.
Q: A journalist requested the Minister to tell him a little more about the people that she had consulted on the issue of the struggle sensitivities in the course of arriving at her decision.
A: The Minister responded that her consultations had to be viewed in the context of sensitivity. She was not required by law to consult the victims of the political crimes committed by Mr Nofemela. She had felt that this was necessary to prepare for the release of Mr Nofemela into his community. She had met with one of the children of the affected families and they had had a good discussion which was very constructive. She had found the child concerned to be a South African who was truly committed to truth and reconciliation and deeply committed to healing the nation who had pointed out that amnesty had been granted to this man and that he could not be kept in prison any longer beyond this time. However, they had not been able to trace the family of the late Johannes Hendrik Lourens. He had been an old man who was single and had been living with his brother. Both the NCCS and DCS had tried without any success to locate the brother. The one other person that the Minister had met was Mr Dirk Coetzee. She had met with him because he had at some time in the 2006/7 parole application had said that he would be able to assist Mr Nofemela with a job which had been one of the requirements set out by the former Minister of Correctional Services. Mr Coetzee had been Mr Nofemela's direct commander or handler and he was the one person over the years besides family who had kept regular contact with Mr Nofemela almost on a monthly basis and given him a lot of support both financially and emotionally with regard to Mr Nofemela's family. The Minister assured the media that Mr Nofemela would have a lot of support from the people close to him when released.
Q: The journalist asked the Minister whether there was any re-consideration of the Darby Lewis parole application.
A: The Minister responded that the matter of Darby-Lewis was not on the cards. By allowing Mr Nofemela to go out on parole, the Minister was not in any way setting a precedent for many other cases which were under consideration. There were currently nine lifers who were being considered for parole. There were also eight lifers whose parole applications had been rejected by the NCCS. Therefore it was not just the case of Mr Nofemela but there were many other cases that were being dealt with and the Darby-Lewis case was not on the cards. The reason was the fact that Mr Darby-Lewis had not been granted amnesty by the TRC for the crimes that he had committed. He therefore went to a correctional centre to serve a sentence for a crime that he had committed. Secondly, there had not been full disclosure as far as the TRC was concerned and thirdly he had not completed 20 years in prison. Therefore even if he had been granted amnesty for this crime for which he was serving time, he still would not have qualified for parole consideration. Mr Darby-Lewis also had not shown any remorse at all for the crime committed and it was for that reason that the Minister thought the TRC had not granted him amnesty. It was not the Minister's intention to abuse the parole system to allow for people to come out of prison by manipulating the parole process.
Q: A journalist asked the Minister if she might not be worried about how the general community might react, looking at Mr Nofamela’s apartheid involvement. There could be people who could want to lash out against him.
The Minister responded that she thought that South Africans had matured over the years. All South Africans realized that there had been a struggle in which many people had lost their lives but that it was now time for nation building. They could not be looking back and talking about retribution or retaliation, they had gone beyond that as a nation. Whatever reservations the community could have about Mr Nofemela's release, she was hopeful that they would embrace him. She reminded them that as much as they were talking about the eight politically motivated murders committed by Mr Nofemela, there were many other individuals out there who had been working with him at that time either directly or indirectly but who were out there and lived in communities and worked within communities without any problems. They were moving forward as a nation and what was important was they all acknowledged that these things happened and that they now needed to focus on building the nation. She sincerely believed that South Africans would appreciate the spirit with which the decision had been taken and that it was time to move on and put all that baggage behind them.
Q: A journalist asked, since the Minister had referred to the fact that Mr Nofemela was not in prison for a political crime (as the murder of Mr Lourens was deemed not to be a political crime), why in her statement was there only one sentence that made reference to the family of Mr Lourens. Did this mean that, if the families of the victims of Mr Nofemela's political crimes were not in favour of his being released, the Minister would have changed her mind?
A: The Minister responded that she had indicated that in the spirit of ubuntu and pure sensitivity at a human level it had been important for her to talk to the victims of Nofemela's crimes. Their views mattered because obviously they would have their own fears and anxieties and it was important that they prepared people as they went through this process which was probably very difficult for them. It was also difficult for Nofemela because he too had expressed his anxiety about coming back to his community after 22 years, after having committed politically motivated murders. The Minister said that everyone affected by this matter saw it as an opportunity for nation building and a process of healing. The victims were aware that Mr Nofemela had been granted amnesty and that there was no way that they could have prevented his release. The purpose of the exercise was to prepare people so that they would not just hear an announcement that Nofemela would be released on parole. They needed to be prepared so that they went through the emotions and the trauma but appreciated that this man had been granted political amnesty and was now due for parole and could not be kept in prison any longer, beyond the time which he had served.
The briefing was adjourned.
STATEMENT BY MINISTER NOSIVIWE MAPISA-NQAKULA ON THE PAROLE APPLICATION OF MR ALMOND NOFEMELA;
UBUNTU CENTRE (120 PLEIN STREET) CAPE TOWN: 28 AUGUST 2009 (10h00)
Ladies and gentlemen of the media thank you for honouring our invitation this morning.
On Friday, 21 August 2009 I received a report from the Chairperson of the National Council for Correctional Services (NCCS), The Honourable Mr. Justice Siraj Desai. This report contained the recommendations of the NCCS following the parole application of Mr. Butana Almond Nofemela. The NCCS sought approval for the placement of Mr. Nofemela on parole subject to a few conditions which were stipulated in the report.
I think it is useful at this point to remind everyone that Mr. Nofemela was incarcerated after he was convicted for the murder of a farmer, Mr. Johannes Hendrik Lourens in 1987. As you would recall, he was sentenced to death for this crime. On the eve of his execution he volunteered information regarding covert operations of the apartheid security forces. His sentence was subsequently converted to life imprisonment. In terms of section 136(3) of the Correctional Services Act, any person serving a life sentence of imprisonment, to which he/she was sentenced before 01 October 2004, is entitled to be considered for parole after he or she has served at least 20 years of the sentence. To date Mr. Nofemela has served twenty two (22) years and as a result he was entitled to apply for placement on parole in terms of current legislation.
The sensitivities regarding Mr. Nofemela in the main revolved around his activities as a member of the apartheid era security forces where he was a member of what later became commonly known as the "Vlakplaas hit-squads". As a member of these structures he was responsible for killing a number of liberation struggle activists and operatives the most prominent being Griffiths Mxenge and Zwelibanzi Nyanda (brother to the current Minister of Communications, General Siphiwe Nyanda).
As a former MK combatant myself, I must admit this parole application was a difficult one to swallow. For many these events feel as fresh as though they happened yesterday. Indeed this is even more so for the friends and relatives of those that suffered at the hands of Nofemela and his colleagues. In order to deal with these sad realities however, we had to be guided by the facts. The fact is that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) granted Mr. Nofemela amnesty for all the politically motivated crimes he had committed. Accordingly, section 20(7)(a) of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995 provides that:
"No person who has been granted amnesty in respect of an act, omission or offence shall be criminally or civilly liable in respect of such act, omission or offence."
What this means, effectively, is that if Mr. Nofemela had not been convicted and sentenced for the murder of Mr. Lourens (for which he was not granted amnesty) he would have been a free man in the 1990s. I am sure we can all recount many persons who committed similar and worse offences and who, after receiving amnesty, were allowed to continue their lives as free men and women.
In line with our commitment to ensuring restorative justice, the NCCS tried to trace the family of the victim (Mr. Lourens' family) in order to obtain their inputs into this process. Unfortunately they could not be traced. In applying my mind to the facts and recommendations submitted to me, I also engaged a number of persons who are directly and indirectly affected by the possible release of Mr. Nofemela. This was done because despite the fact that Mr. Nofemela was granted amnesty for politically motivated crimes, his case remains politically sensitive.
I must emphasize that these consultations that I undertook are not a strict legal requirement and were part of my own exercise aimed at ensuring that I have a full appreciation of the facts surrounding this case. As much as I am grateful for the inputs I obtained I regret that I could not meet all those affected. I also took time to meet Mr. Nofemela on Monday, 24 August 2009.
Finally then, ladies and gentlemen, my decision in this matter is as follows: I have decided to uphold the recommendation of the NCCS and have approved that inmate number 387097 (Mr. Almond Nofomela) be granted parole subject to him completing the standard Departmental pre-release programs.
The Department will obviously also ensure that the offender understands his parole conditions. Given the sensitivities of this case and the requirement of the pre-release program that I have alluded to, I am not in a position to indicate the exact date and time of Mr. Nofomela's release.
We wish Mr. Nofomela well and trust that he will contribute positively to the building of a strong democracy as he is re-united with his family and loved ones. It is indeed in instances such as this that we can truly be proud of the path of reconciliation and restorative justice that we, as a people, have chosen to embrace.
Thank you very much.
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