The parole appearance for Chris Hani’s murderers was expected to be investigated, as it was handled inappropriately, South Africa’s correctional services department announced in a statement.

The announcement came shortly after a correctional services junior official sent an email, on Minister Ngconde Balfour’s email to the Hani family regarding parole hearings for Clive Derby-Lewis and Janus Walus – the men found guilty of the former struggle hero’s murder in 1993.

According to the statement “Balfour has distanced himself from the email. He also regards the manner of the matter (parole hearings) to have been handled inappropriately.”

Balfour plans to investigate and take appropriate action. “The department apologised to the Hani family, and the SA Communist Party (SACP) for the “inappropriate handling of the issue of parole hearing for Derby-Lewis and Walus.”

Hani (pictured), the SACP leader, was gunned down in his driveway in Johannesburg on Easter Weekend 1993 when talks to establish a democratic South Africa was still underway before the 1994 democratic elections.

Derby-Lewis would have been a free man on October 15 following the recommendation of the parole board, his attorney said in the aftermarth of the controversy. Marius Coertze said: “On 19 August he appeared before the parole board in Pretoria on a recommendation they received from the case management committee. They recommended that Derby-Lewis must be released on parole on 15 October 2008.”

Coertze said the board’s recommendation, which was chaired by Victor Sepeng, was then forwarded to the regional commissioner of correctional services.

Because Derby-Lewis was 72 and had served 15 years of his sentence, he had become eligible for parole in terms of the Minimum Sentences and the Correctional Services acts.

Coertze said that Derby-Lewis was told by the parole board on September 22 that “the commissioner requested that the Hani family be informed of the coming parole.

“The parole board did not have the contact details of the Hani family. Mr Derby-Lewis — yes imagine that — supplied them with the information,” said Coertze.

He said Derby-Lewis appeared before the parole board on Tuesday and was told that the week’s notice given to the Hani family was insufficient.

Victor Sepeng, the chairman of the correctional supervision and parole board at the Pretoria Central Prison declined to comment and said: “I am not allowed to talk to the media. You must speak to our communications department”.

The e-mail sent to Chris Hani’s widow, Limpho, to inform her of the parole hearing, has sparked an angry reaction from the SA Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the ANC Youth League.

Correctional Services spokesman Manelisi Wolela said minister Balfour had not been aware that parole was being considered for Derby-Lewis. He said the minister was the last person to be involved in any parole process.

Wolela said Balfour did not have any knowledge of the e-mail.

He was reacting to claims made by the SACP on Wednesday that the minister had allowed a junior official to send the “casual e-mail” to Hani’s widow.

The SACP said the e-mail constituted a “serious act of provocation, not only to the Hani family, but to the SACP, the alliance and the overwhelming majority of the people of South Africa”.

It said that Balfour’s “decision” to allow the e-mail to be sent “to the widow of an assassinated leader of Hani’s stature is offensive in the extreme”.

In a statement released late on Wednesday, Wolela said: “Minister Balfour regards the manner in which… Clive Derby-Lewis and Janus Walus’ parole appearance was handled [as] inappropriate and plans to investigate the matter and take appropriate corrective action”.

The Young Communist League spokesman Castro Ngobese noted the parole board’s intentions with “utter disgust”.

A statement released by the ANC Youth League read: “The ANCYL believes that granting parole to assassins will set a very wrong and unsustainable precedent, and could open space for political assassinations”.

All three organisations demanded that parole for the two men must not be considered until they had disclosed all the information behind Hani’s assassination. Asked about the YCL statement, Derby-Lewis’ wife Gaye said: “It’s like an old record. We’ve heard this all before. The sitting has already been held. It was an all black parole board that made the recommendation.”

Derby-Lewis, 72, and the Polish-born Walus, 55, were sentenced to death for Hani’s assassination on April 10, 1993. Their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment in 1995.