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Prisoners vote for solutions to crime
By Francoise Gallet
April 14, 2004

Western Cape Pollsmoor Prison inmate, Fuad Hendricks, sentenced to three years for housebreaking, cast his vote for the Democratic Alliance because he wants "less crime", "more jobs" and "less poverty".

Discontent with the crime situation in South Africa is perhaps a surprising sentiment to colour the voting choice of a prison inmate, but then again maybe notĶ For as Hendricks explains: "The DA said that they would bring crime down and create more jobs for people who are unemployed. If I had a job I would not be a criminal."

Hendricks, who has his matric certificate, tried unsuccessfully for two years to find a job, eventually turning to a life of "gangsterism and crime".

Another inmate who wants a "better life" despite the fact that a good 18 years of it will be spent behind bars is Christopher Wagner. Wagner has his sights set firmly on the future the future of his "kids at home".
"I'm voting for a party to make a better life for me and my kids."

Reasons for voting aside, Wagner firmly believes that he deserves his right to mark the ballot paper. "We are part of the community; we are one nation," he says of the Constitutional Court's controversial decision to give prisoners the right to vote.

Ibrahim Petersen, serving time for housebreaking and theft, believes that it would be wrong to deny prisoners their right to vote arguing that you need to vote because at some stage you will put your crime "behind you".

"It's very good to allow prisoners to vote because we can get better."

Security Officer at the prison, Lous van Hansen, shares this sentiment arguing that the prisoners are "human beings with a right to vote".

"Things have changed now in the new South Africa. They see the warders voting," he says, implying that denying prisoners the right to vote amounts to a denial of prisoners' humanity.

Hendricks also feels strongly that every person should have the right to vote. "I'm a South African citizen. Every citizen should have the right to vote."

Parliament's amendment to the Electoral Act that barred prisoners sentenced to time behind bars without the option of a fine and the right to vote was struck aside by the Constitutional Court earlier this year. The court ruled that given our country's history, voting was a precious right and one to be enjoyed by even those incarcerated.

Mervyn Daniels, who was jailed as a juvenile and is serving a sentence of 15 years argues along the same lines asserting that because prisoners are "human beings" they deserve a right to "participate" in South Africas democracy.

But it's a sentiment that generates a fair share of controversy and even political parties are divided on the issue.

The DA vote-of-choice for Hendricks is against all prisoners having the right to vote and only supports voting rights for prisoners with the option of a fine or for prisoners awaiting trial. As a party they also support the death penalty.

The New National Party (NNP) and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) also expressed concern at the time of the Constitutional Court ruling, reported Johannesburg newspaper The Star.

But regardless of the debate that may wage outside the prison walls, the prisoners who voted on April 14 are undivided on the issue.


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