William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

The traitorous Clive Derby-Lewis: Killing him softly

Personally, I was all in favour of Clive Derby-Lewis, conspirator in the 1993 killing of SA Communist Party leader Chris Hani, being hanged. Nor would his also being drawn and quartered, the medieval punishment for traitorous assassins, been lamented.

Unfortunately our Constitution is a model of jurisprudential enlightenment and eschews such state-enacted barbarism. So the taxpayer will have to underwrite Derby-Lewis’ upkeep in jail ad infinitum.

Mine is admittedly a hardline view. But beyond retribution, the prospect of death sentences also provide prosecutorial traction. One could argue that under different circumstances, faced with the prospect of swift despatch or spilling the beans on who masterminded the assassination — Hani’s family believes the full truth has never been told and in political circles speculation continues to this day — Derby-Lewis might have cut a deal for a sentence of life imprisonment.

No deal was necessary. Instead Derby-Lewis simply gambled that although condemned to death by the ancien regime that he claimed to serve, the ultimate punishment would never take place. It was a pretty safe bet, because constitutional change was in full swing and when capital punishment was abolished a year later, Derby-Lewis’ sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, meaning a maximum of 25 years in jail.

Ad infinitum, especially when applied to humans, is a relative thing. In this case it is likely measured in weeks and months. After 21 years in jail, Derby-Lewis is on min dae. He has terminal lung cancer, inoperable because he is too weak to survive surgery.

Which is why this week his lawyer brought an urgent high court application for his release. These are final moves in a long saga, as Derby-Lewis tried repeatedly to compel correctional services to follow their own guidelines on medical parolees — guidelines established within the ambit of that model Constitution that spared his life so many years ago.

Derby-Lewis, now 78, became eligible for parole in 2010 because he had served in excess of 15 years in prison. Given the resistance of the Hani family, the SA Communist Party, and the official opposition Democratic Alliance, he stood no chance of getting it.

In 2011 he tried for medical parole on the basis of skin and prostate cancer, and hypertension, but was refused. The same in 2013.

These were big setbacks for Derby-Lewis. He was basically being denied the relief that the 1994 Constitution accords as a matter of administrative rote to the most bloodthirsty of killers. However, this was never likely to be a popular cause for human-rights groups to take up.

Maybe Derby-Lewis should change tactics and argue that his religious rights are being violated. He is being denied access to the Sacred Rite of the Zuma Intervention, a uniquely South African phenomenon that rivals the Waters of Lourdes in its capacity for miraculous healing.

The efficacy of the Sacred Rite is proven. It has saved at least two skelms thought to be beyond medical redemption.

The first was Schabir Shaik, President Jacob Zuma’s original familiar, whose 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption was after only two years set aside in 2009, because of his dicky heart. Shaik was so ill that most of his jail time was spent confined to a luxurious medical suite in a Durban private hospital. Miraculously, now he is robust enough to play golf and allegedly punch inquisitive journalists.

The second was another of Zuma’s familiars, former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, whose 15-year sentence for corruption was after only two years set aside in 2012, because of irreversible kidney failure, heart and eye disease. Now — Hallelujah Lord! — Selebi is often seen out and about busy with some recreational shopping.

Is it too late for Derby-Lewis and his family to hope for the Sacred Rite of the Zuma Intervention, this time on behalf of a foe?

Derby-Lewis’ high court application was set aside on Tuesday after he and the justice and correctional services minister, Michael Masutha, reached agreement on the processing procedure for his latest medical parole bid. The board would consider medical reports by December 10 and deliver a recommendation by December 15. Masutha would rule on parole by no later than January 31.

The SACP and the Hani family remain steadfast in their opposition to Derby-Lewis’ release. The normally vocal Democratic Alliance has been silent this time around.

Perhaps, like correctional services, which clearly does not want to make a decision that flouts the wishes of the governing alliance, the DA hopes that Derby-Lewis will spare them the embarrassment of having to speak out in favour of the just but unpopular action, by dying before January 31. Pray hard, guys!

That’s the problem with model constitutions. imperfect humans.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye

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