Johannesburg — Justice Minister Penuell Maduna has accused truth commission chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu of hypocrisy for suggesting that the pardons made a mockery of the truth and reconciliation process.
There has been an outcry since President Thabo Mbeki granted the pardons last week, particularly about the claim that most of the 33 prisoners pardoned were members of either the African National Congress (ANC) or the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
There have been calls for the granting of presidential pardons to be more transparent. The pardoning of some who were denied amnesty by the truth commission has also been criticised.
Maduna, replying to a question from the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon, admitted some of those pardoned were denied amnesty by the truth commission.
Maduna said others had not applied for amnesty and some were on parole at the time of the pardons. He said that the power to pardon was contained in the constitution and he had advised Mbeki public opinion favoured the release of the convicts.
Regarding the interests of society, the interests of the individuals and the level of remorse shown, Maduna said "they are not taken lightly".
Leon said many members of the public felt that the pardons were part of a "grubby deal" brokered by Eastern Cape premier Mankhenkesi Stofile, who went from prison to prison handing out application forms.
He also suggested that a disproportionate number of those pardoned were from the ANC and the PAC.
Leon said that there were indications that the membership of particular parties was enough to get an early release for serious crimes, "even murder".
Maduna said he had read what Tutu had said.
"It saddens me to note a tendency in that one to say one thing when praying, namely that we should be pardoned our own sins for indeed we pardon those who trespass against us and then at the same time come out and say those who appeared before the (truth commission) have forfeited their right to approach the head of state," Maduna said.
"People are entitled to approach the head of state."
Maduna denied there was a disproportionate number of ANC members among the pardoned.
"They were ordinary human beings who used their rights, whether they are ANC or not."
He said there were more than a hundred others who had petitioned the president. Those who had succeeded were "singled out for no apparent reason".
Maduna could not say if more pardons were in the pipeline, but if further petitions were received they would be considered and if he came to the conclusion to recommend pardon, he would do so.
"They did not undermine the process of the (truth commission) at all.
"These are two processes. The one falling under the TRC Act and those who made application to the president."