The case drew worldwide attention and impassioned protests from demonstrators who saw the killing as another racial attack in a country still grappling with its apartheid past.
Mark Scott-Crossley was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2005 for assaulting Nelson Chisale, a former employee, and throwing his body to lions at his game farm who devoured him. The Supreme Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to five years, saying there was no proof Chisale had been alive when he was fed to the animals.
According to trial testimony, Chisale had been fired from Scott-Crossley's construction business at the game farm and returned two months later to collect his belongings. When he did, he was attacked with machetes and tied to a stake, where he was left bleeding for six or seven hours before being thrown into a lion enclosure.
Only Chisale's skull and some gnawed bones and bloody clothing were found.
Another farm worker was sentenced to 15 years for carrying out the assault, but the trial judge said Scott-Crossley was the mastermind.
The Confederation of South African Trade Unions slammed his release. "It is clear that those who are rich and white will continue to be treated differently to those who are poor," it said.
COSATU criticized the fact that the Supreme Court had indicated that Chisale was dead before he was thrown to the lions, but did not rule on who killed him.
A prison official, Sarie Peens, was quoted as telling the South African Press Association that Scott-Crossley was moved from Baberton Prison and taken to a "reintegration" office where he was met by his family Thursday.
The report did not give a reason for his early release. It is common in South Africa for convicts to be freed early to ease prison overcrowding.
"He is now being placed under strict conditions on parole until completion of his sentence," SAPA quoted Peens as saying.