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PoliticsSouth Africa

South African former President Jacob Zuma jailed by police

July 8, 2021

The 79-year-old anti-apartheid veteran turned himself in to officers on Thursday in line with a court ruling that says he must serve 15 months in prison for contempt of court.

Supporters of former South African President Jacob Zuma rally outside his home in Nkandla, South Africa
Supporters of the ex-president had been trying to prevent his arrestImage: Rogan Ward/REUTERS

Former South African president Jacob Zuma was in police custody on Thursday after handing himself over to authorities to begin a 15-month prison term.

The veteran leader had faced a midnight deadline for officers to arrest him after judges ruled he should go to jail for contempt of court.

The country's highest court handed Zuma the prison term after he ignored a judicial ruling ordering him to appear before a commission investigating alleged corruption during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.

Zuma had lodged two last-ditch legal appeals, which will be heard in the coming days, meaning it was not clear until late on Wednesday whether he would abide by the deadline to turn himself in.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma
Zuma has dismissed all the allegations against him as a witch huntImage: Rogan Ward/REUTERS

Can Zuma be released on parole? 

Under South Africa's correctional regulations, Zuma will be eligible for parole in just under four months, Justice Minister Ronald Ramola told reporters Thursday. 

Zuma "will be afforded dignity throughout his term of incarceration," Ramola said. 

"This is not a moment of celebration or triumphalism, it is a moment of restraint and to be human," he said, promising to treat Zuma like any other inmate. 

Why did judges impose a deadline for his arrest?

Supporters had gathered at his home in Nkandla in Kwa-Zulu Natal province in recent days to try and prevent his arrest.

But the 79-year-old decided to turn himself over ahead of the court's deadline, which was imposed after he refused to show up on Sunday.

"President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a Correctional Services Facility in KZN [KwaZulu-Natal province]," the Zuma Foundation said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba confirmed to the Reuters news agency that Zuma was in the care of the police service, in compliance with the court order.

What did Zuma's legal team argue?

His lawyers had made a last-ditch bid to block his incarceration, saying there would be "a prejudice to his life" if he served the jail term.

It is the first time that a former South African president has served time in prison after leaving office. 

The ex-head of state joined the fight against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela, spending 10 years in the Robben Island jail with the man who became South Africa's first Black president.

A stalwart of the African National Congress, Zuma rose through its ranks to become the party's most influential power broker.

However, his influence was on the wane by 2017 when then-Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as the ruling party’s leader in December of that year.

Zuma's legal woes mount up

The commission inquiry was set up to probe allegations that Zuma allowed three Indian-born businesmen, Atul, Ajay, and Rajesh Gupta, to tap into state resources and buy influence over government policy.

The three brothers fled to Dubai after Zuma was ousted by Ramaphosa. All of them deny any wrongdoing.

The former leader also faces separate corruption charges over a 1999 arms deal worth $2 billion with French defense firm Thales.

Prosecutors reinstated the charges in March 2018, one month after his presidency came to an end.

The former president has branded all of the allegations as a politically motivated witch-hunt.

fb, jf/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)