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Former South African Anti-Apartheid Activist Released - 2001-05-22


Former South African anti-apartheid crusader Allan Boesak has been released from jail. The Dutch Reformed Church minister served one year of his three-year prison term for fraud. He still insists he is innocent.

Allan Boesak walked out of his jail cell near Cape Town a free man - sort of. The conditions of his parole restrict his movement outside his home district. But as he hugged his wife, Elna, and his nine-year-old daughter, Boesak said all he wants to do now is spend time with them.

"The rain has stopped and it is turning out to be a wonderful day. It is great to be outside," he said. "I cannot tell you how I feel. It's just wonderful to be back with my family, and with all my friends."

It is not the first time Boesak had seen the inside of a prison cell. The former National Party government jailed him for his anti-apartheid activities. He was a founding member of the United Democratic Front and a vocal thorn in the side of the apartheid regime.

But even before he was imprisoned for fraud, his image had suffered several blows, including allegations of marital infidelity. Boesak went to jail last May, after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on charges of fraud and theft. He was found guilty of stealing roughly $400,000 in donations from his own charity foundation.

The flamboyant minister has always maintained his innocence despite what by most accounts was convincing evidence against him. Outside the Goodwood prison, he repeated his claim that he was wrongly convicted. He said he does not know how the people who sent him to jail can sleep at night. But he also said he is not going to waste his time being bitter. "I have been angry about a lot of things and I am still angry about some things. But anger is good, bitterness is bad," he said.

Boesak was released after serving one year of his three-year jail term. South African law says convicts can be paroled after serving one-third of their sentences, and unless the prisoners have misbehaved, it is fairly common for them to be released early.

But the South African Prisoners Organization for Human Rights believes Boesak might have gotten special treatment because of his ties to the ruling party. The group issued a statement questioning the legitimacy of the parole system. But the ruling African National Congress welcomed his release, as did a crowd of supporters that greeted him outside the prison.

Boesak thanked his friends and family for their support. "It has become very clear to me that my faith has been strengthened. It has been tested, but strengthened," he said. "And after the ups and downs of the last few weeks, not knowing whether I will go out, and not knowing when I will go out, it is also clear that when God decides to open the door, no power on earth can close it."

The Dutch Reformed Church minister did not plan to wait long before jumping back into the pulpit. He was scheduled to preach at a church service near Cape Town Tuesday evening.

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