South African authorities have said they are releasing up to 35,000 inmates to ease overcrowding in the nation's prisons.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa said some 14,600 prisoners would be released "conditionally or unconditionally", along with more than 20,000 offenders on probation or parole who qualify to have sentences cut.
President Jacob Zuma announced the pardons, known as special remission of sentences, to mark the anniversary of Nelson Mandela winning the nation's first all-race elections in 1994.
Mr Mthethwa said violent criminals and those jailed for sexual, drug-related and weapons offences will not be freed.
Prison overcrowding is being reduced from 34% over capacity to about 20%.
Since 1994, prisoners have been amnestied on several symbolic occasions.