JOHANNESBURG : South African politicians have criticised the government’s decision to release former President Jacob Zuma within two months of his 15 month prison sentence for contempt of court after ignoring a Constitutional Court order to appear before an enquiry into state capture.

Zuma was released yesterday under correctional supervision via a medical parole. The country’s Department of Correctional Services confirmed in a statement that this form of parole is given to an offender serving a sentence for 24 months or less.

It comes two months after Zuma became the first head of state in South Africa to be jailed under democratic rule. While the ruling African National Party yesterday welcomed his release, opposition Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen said the medical parole of Zuma was unlawful and made a mockery of the country’s laws.

Dennis Bloem, a member of the Congress of the People (Cope), said the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, should explain the reasons for the decision because many inmates had unsuccessfully asked for parole while Zuma received it in double quick time.

Critics alluded to the fact that Zuma’s co accused in a 2005 corruption trial, Durban fraudster Schabir Shaik was released under questionable medical parole. He was reportedly dying. But has since made a miraculous recovery after his release on 3 March 2009.

Shaik reportedly broke his parole terms on several occasions over the past decade without any sanction.

In a statement the department said Zuma’s eligibility for parole was based on a medical report it had received around his condition. “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,” the department said.
According to the statement, the risk of re-offending of released inmates must be low with steps taken for the inmate’s supervision, care and treatment within the community to which the inmate is to be released to.

“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 specific set of conditions and will be subjected to supervision until his sentence expires,” the department said.

Medical parole can only be revoked if an offender does not comply with the placement conditions.

“We want to reiterate that placement on medical parole is an option available to all sentenced offenders provided they meet all the requirements. We appeal to all South Africans to afford Mr Zuma dignity as he continues to receive medical treatment.”