Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the remissions of more than 50,000 offenders would not undermine justice or compromise safety in the country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement to mark Reconciliation Day on Monday.
This is the fifth remission of sentences since 1994, two were issued by the late former President Nelson Mandela while former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma issued them in 2005 and 2012 respectively.
Lamola said the country has 233,000 offenders and 163,000 are incarcerated while the rest are on probation or on parole.
But he said many inmates were not dangerous to society but simply could not afford to pay a fine or bail.
“They often experience discrimination and a denial of work opportunities and this contribute towards re-offending.”
Over the next nine months, 51,000 offenders will either have their records expunged completely or remission of their sentences to reduce overcrowding and ease the burden of monitoring parolees.
Despite this, Lamola said his department was committed to creating safer and secure communities.
“We have made it our mission to securely incarcerate hardened criminals and those who are considered to be a danger to society.”
Mbeki granted 65,000 remissions and Zuma granted 45,000.