A decision handed down by a Northern Cape High Court judge could pave the way for former ANC provincial chairperson John Block to be released from custody.
A DECISION handed down by Northern Cape High Court Judge Albert Punch Sibongile Nxumalo could pave the way for former ANC provincial chairperson John Block to be released from custody.
Nxumalo has given the Upington Correctional Supervision and Parole Board 21 days in which to reconsider Block’s application for special remission.
He overturned the decision of the Upington Correctional Supervision and Parole Board and the national commissioner for Correctional Services to disqualify Block for early release based on his “meritorious service”.
Block has been serving a 15-year sentence on charges of corruption and money laundering at the Upington Correctional Centre since 2018.
He was found guilty of receiving gratifications in the form of shares in Trifecta, renovations to his guest house in Upington and cash payments after facilitating multimillion-rand leases for government offices with the Trifecta group of companies.
Nxumalo pointed out that it was common cause that Block was a “well-behaved offender” who had not been charged with any misconduct since his incarceration.
He slammed the decision to deny him an early release, in recognition of his “meritorious service”, as being “unjustified, unprocedural and capricious”.
Nxumalo described Block’s case as “exceptional”, where he believed that he was being kept in custody beyond the date that he should have been legally released.
“The evidence has shown selective targeting and bias towards Block. The evidence has shown arbitrariness on the part of the Department of Corrections which released certain unqualified inmates. The record has shown falsification of evidence under oath in an attempt to mislead the court.”
Nxumalo counted among Block’s praiseworthy accomplishments, within six months of being incarcerated, volunteering as a teacher at the correctional centre.
“Block desired to contribute positively towards the well-being of fellow inmates as there was a shortage of teachers at the centre. He also arranged for the provision of educational books, which, to date, are still being used by inmates at the centre. He served as a tutor between 2019 and 2022 and attained a diploma in Public Administration through the University of the Western Cape in April 2022.”
He added that Block had secured the sponsorship of sporting gear and equipment for four soccer teams at the centre and employed an ex-offender on his farm.
“Since his release, the former offender has not committed any crimes.”
Nxumalo stated that Block had also secured the safety of inmates and officials when he alerted the head of the centre to discrepancies in the signage, where the isiXhosa translation did not prohibit the unauthorised carrying of firearms and cellphones into the centre.
“In his view, this resulted in potentially saving the institution from possible lawsuits.”
He indicated that based upon his good deeds the head of centre, Mr Ndlovu, recommended that Block was a candidate for a special remission.
“A decision was made that the said actions did not constitute sufficient grounds to justify his remission on June 12, 2020.”
Block indicated that the centre was aware that he was involved in several altercations with an investigator, Mr Du Plessis, who was assigned to determine if he qualified for a special remission.
During an altercation, he had protested to Du Plessis that he could “report him to the minister” for ill-treating him and that he was abusing his powers to prejudice him.
Block denied that he had any ulterior motives or had used undue influence or connections at the Premier’s Office to organise the donation of soccer kits to the value of R13 200.
He was aggrieved that Du Plessis had not interviewed him and the case management committee to properly determine the extent of his contributions to the centre and believed that he had made a predetermined decision.
Block’s review application to the parole board was dismissed on February 3, 2021.
The Department of Correctional Services, the parole board and the minister of Justice and Constitutional Development argued that Block had only himself to blame when he failed to hand himself over in 2016.
“The minimum detention period would have fallen within the said period.”
They noted that while Block’s actions were commendable, they did not meet the criteria that included informing the centre of an attack, escape, assault, smuggling of drugs or firearms or where inmates had placed themselves in danger.
Du Plessis had warned the head of the centre to be on his guard against accepting donations from inmates who were trying to influence them, especially if it was done with the expectation of being granted a special remission.
He also believed that the incorrect Xhosa signage did not change the policy of the prison not to permit firearms and cellphones into the centre.
Nxumalo stated that after serving one year and 19 days of his sentence, the president granted all prisoners a 24-month special remission, which should effectively reduce Block’s sentence to 13 years.
Block argued that he qualified for early release, as he would have served his minimum detention period on May 26, 2025.
The remission applied to low-risk inmates, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, who were incarcerated on April 27, 2020, where inmates had served 60 months of their sentences.
Block claimed that his name, which was initially included in the president’s proclamation that inmates who served their minimum detention period could be released, was subsequently “irrationally” excluded without any explanation or reason.
The head of legal services of the Department of Correctional Services for the Free State and Northern Cape swore that he was not aware of how long Block served at the time the special remission came into effect.
Nxumalo stated that an inmate had a right to be informed of reports submitted by the case management committee to the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board or the national commissioner.
“A sentenced inmate should be afforded an opportunity to submit written representations. The court is satisfied that Block has exhausted all available internal remedies. It was not necessary for him to invoke the Promotion of Access to Information Act in order for him to access what should have been afforded to him. There is no evidence that that the final decision was conveyed in writing to him.”
Nxumalo questioned why Block was not called to appear before the case management committee for feedback or make written representations to the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board or the national commissioner.
“Block averred that the centre was well aware of the animosity between himself and Mr Du Plessis, who was appointed to determine if he qualified for a remission of sentence. Alternatively, he should have recused himself to maintain fairness and impartiality during the investigation.”
Block speculated that his name was removed from the list of offenders to be considered for early release because of political interference.
Nxumalo found no reason why Block should be “out of pocket” and ordered the department to pay his legal costs of the application as well as the costs of his legal representative, senior advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, and legal representative for the Department of Correctional Services, advocate Maponya from the State Attorney’s Office.