Following allegations made by Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, in defence of John Block, the correctional services department said the law required that all prison inmates should be treated equally, despite their proximity to specific leaders.
Block is the former chairperson of the Northern Cape ANC.
Sisulu alleged that Block, convicted of corruption, was denied an early release during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in favour of foreign nationals and sexual offenders.
Sisulu accused the government of denying Block, and herself, legal rights when she was apparently denied an opportunity to visit him on Tuesday.
Block was convicted of corruption and handed a 15-year sentence for using his political influence to solicit bribes while serving as a Northern Cape provincial official.
His appeals ended at the Constitutional Court, where his final appeal was dismissed, leading to the start of his prison sentence in 2018.
During an impromptu media briefing in the Northern Cape on Tuesday, Sisulu painted Block as a political hero and a victim of injustice.
The ANC presidential hopeful said she was assured she would be able to see Block on Tuesday and made the journey to the Northern Cape only to be stopped from entering the facility.
“We have learned with shock that the prison won’t allow us to see him. Block has been in prison for some time. We made the application to come to see him. It is my right to have access to him, and the Constitution allows that,” she said.
Allan Boesak, a struggle activist and priest, who planned to pray for Block during the visit, alleged that Sisulu was a victim of political mischief.
The department’s spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, said no prisoner was entitled to special treatment.
He said Sisulu, like any ordinary citizen, had to make a booking before visiting a prison.
“The Correctional Services Act calls for inmates to be treated equally. It will be unfortunate if some are treated differently due to their proximity to certain leaders and prominent people in society. DCS is a security department, hence the need to implement and follow procedures as prescribed.
“There is nothing in law prohibiting ministers from visiting inmates. However, it has to be stated that the same procedures meant for public members apply equally to the Executive and people who may want to provide spiritual support, Nxumalo said.
Sisulu alleged that Block was on the list of early-release prisoners, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but his name was removed.
She said Block, convicted of fraud, was denied release in favour of convicted rapists.
“Nobody disclosed reasons why his name was removed from the parole list. Instead, several people, some of them sexual offenders, were allowed to go on parole. An offender was convicted of rape, and he took John Block’s space on parole.
But Nxumalo said Sisulu’s allegations about rapists released on Covid-19 parole were inaccurate.
He said Block did not meet the criteria for early release and was not removed from it unfairly.
“There were enquiries on inmate John Block being on the list of those who were granted parole, and it was clarified that he was never on the list as he did not meet the stipulated criteria.
“It is also critical to highlight that, under the Covid-19 Parole Dispensation and Special Remission of Sentences, specific categories of inmates who committed crimes, including murder, sexual assault, child abuse, high treason, sabotage and terrorism, were excluded. Therefore, utterances insinuating that a rapist was released on parole under the Covid-19 Parole Dispensation are wholly unfounded and unfortunate,” Nxumalo said.
“We remain committed to enforce the Correctional Services Act without any fear or favour. We will treat all visitors and inmates equally without any undue influence.”
Sisulu said being denied visiting Block vindicated her controversial opinion piece written earlier this year, in which she attacked the Constitution and the judiciary.
She faced widespread criticism for this opinion piece and has continued to defend it.
Sisulu is in the ANC’s presidential race in December. She did not speak about her campaign.