OPINION: Schabir Shaik must go back to jail

Six years after being released on medical parole, convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik has made the audacious request to have his medical parole converted to ordinary parole. Unsurprisingly, the news on Monday afternoon released a torrent of outrage in response. I was shocked at how shocked I was by the request, particularly in a country where few things are able to shock me anymore.

President Jacob Zuma's former financial advisor was convicted of fraud in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years in prison on each of two counts of corruption and another three years for fraud. He only served two years and four months of that jail sentence, the majority of it in a hospital environment.

The request is unprecedented in this country and appears to be a complicated issue of law. Technically, he would be eligible for parole after serving half of his original prison term, which in theory he has. However, the Correctional Services Act doesn't provide for the cancellation of medical parole or for a prisoner to be sent back to prison if his health improves.

Regardless of what the law says, the chutzpah of the application only serves to heap more doubt on the credibility of the original application and on the system as a whole.

From the very outset, the authenticity of Schaik's medical parole was questioned. When asked if he was terminally ill, Shaik told the _Mercury _newspaper in 2013 that he was suffering from "severe uncontrollable hypertension", the same genetic illness that both his parents apparently experienced. When he was released on medical parole in 2009 and taken home in an ambulance, there was an abundance of scepticism from an already cynical public about whether he was truly eligible or if he was just receiving preferential treatment. His proximity to Number One had surely earned him a free trip home, most surmised.

His behaviour while on medical parole cemented that doubt. He allegedly throttled and slapped a journalist while playing golf. Then he was accused of punching and slapping a man at a mosque during an argument about parking. He swanned about Durban in his luxury vehicles and was frequently spotted on the golf course. It was hardly the behaviour becoming of a terminally ill patient waiting to die.

Of course, the counter argument is that we cannot expect Shaik to justify his medical parole by dying. No one would reasonably wish death upon him in order to prove that the system is not corrupt. The same argument applied to former police commissioner Jackie Selebi. When he died earlier this year, some responded by suggesting that in death he proved that he was indeed ill and worthy of medical parole.

It was because of Shaik and the disingenuousness surrounding his medical parole that so many doubted the veracity of Selebi's claims of ill health. The erstwhile commissioner would not have had to endure the jokes and disparaging remarks about suffering from 'the Shaiks' or faking his diabetes had Shaik not poked holes in the integrity of the system.

And now to go so far as to ask for his medical parole to be converted to normal parole is a slap in the face of the South African public. It is a mockery. If granted, it will show that the government does not take corruption seriously and does not hold to account those who are close to President Zuma.

It will further erode public confidence in the criminal justice system and entrench the belief that Zuma will do whatever is necessary to protect his cronies, whether that is true or not. It will also only serve to undermine every potential medical parole application in the future that is legitimately submitted. If the system was broken once, why can't it happen again?

If Schabir Shaik is no longer sufficiently ill to be on medical parole, then he must return to jail and serve out the remainder of his sentence.

_Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for _ Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener