South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma handed himself over to police on Wednesday to begin serving a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court. Zuma was admitted to Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday. The 79-year-old was handed the jail term on June 29 after failing to appear before a corruption probe. It became the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president had been sentenced to prison.
The former president was given five days to turn himself in. If he refused to do so, the police were given until the end of Wednesday to arrest and bring him in. Zuma had initially refused to hand himself in, but the Jacob Zuma Foundation in a statement on Wednesday said he had “decided to comply”.
In February, Zuma failed to attend before a corruption investigation conducted by Raymond Zondo, the deputy chief justice. The investigation is looking into accusations of high-level graft. The veteran politician has denied wrongdoing. The corruption investigation was launched by Zuma himself, under pressure from the ruling African National Congress, just before he was deposed in 2018. But he only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout a few days later. He refused to return to court on multiple occasions, citing medical reasons and preparations for a new corruption trial as justifications. In November, he reappeared for a brief appearance but departed before being questioned.
Zuma, in a separate matter, is standing trial on charges of corruption in connection with the acquisition of fighter planes, patrol boats, and military equipment from five European weapons companies for 30 billion rand (about $5 billion) in 1999. Zuma was President Thabo Mbeki’s deputy at the time of the acquisition.
On Sunday, his supporters formed a human shield outside his home as part of moves to block his arrest. Zuma’s legal team, in a last-minute plea to prevent him from going to prison, had asked the acting chief justice to issue directives that will stop the police from arresting him, arguing there would be a “prejudice to his life”.
Zuma had also launched two court proceedings to avoid going to prison. He applied to the Constitutional Court to rescind his sentence. That application will be heard on July 12. On Tuesday, his lawyers were in the Pietermaritzburg High Court seeking to stop the minister of police from arresting him until the Constitutional Court rules on his application. They argued that his “health condition is uncontestably precarious” and he was not a flight risk, Aljazeera reported. The regional court will rule on that application on Friday.
Analysts say his incarceration could be for a short time as a high court judge will on that Friday rule whether police should have waited to bring him in until after the Constitutional Court hearing expected to take place on July 12.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola on Thursday said that in line with Covid-19 protocols, Zuma will be held in isolation for two weeks. Lamola added that the former leader will be eligible for parole after about four months.