South African authorities say they are releasing up to 35,000 offenders to ease overcrowding in the nation's prisons.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said Saturday some 14,600 prison inmates will 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 Friday of Nelson Mandela winning the nation's first all-race elections in 1994.

Mthethwa told reporters violent criminals and those jailed for sexual, drug-related and weapons offenses will not be freed. Prison overcrowding was being reduced from 34 percent over capacity to about 20 percent.

Since 1994, prisoners have been amnestied on several symbolic occasions.