Prison authorities confirmed that Zuma “has been admitted to start serving a 15 months sentence at Estcourt Correctional Centre” in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
His turning himself in after days of refusing to do so brought an end to an impasse that had gripped the country, which is also battling a brutal third wave of Covid-19.
The sentence handed to Zuma by the Constitutional Court last week for snubbing anti-graft investigators also set a benchmark for the continent, by jailing a former head of state for refusing to respond to a corruption probe.
Police had earlier on Wednesday warned they were prepared to arrest Zuma by a midnight deadline to enforce the ruling unless the top court instructed otherwise.
But in the end, the former leader decided to make his own way to prison.
Just minutes before the deadline expired, his foundation tweeted that Zuma had “decided to comply with the incarceration order” and hand himself to a correctional facility.
A convoy of cars believed to be carrying Zuma drove out of his homestead at high speed about 40 minutes before the cut-off time.
Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla tweeted that he was “still in high spirits” and that “he said that he hopes they still have his same overalls from Robben Island… We salute dad!”
– Corruption scandals –
Zuma had mounted a last-ditch legal defence and refused to turn himself in.
He had pleaded with the court for an 11th-hour reprieve, requesting that it suspend its arrest orders until all legal processes were finalised — under the ruling, police were given three days to arrest him if he failed to surrender.
Zuma’s first application to halt his arrest was heard on Tuesday but the judgement was reserved until Friday.
Separately, he has pleaded with the Constitutional Court to reconsider and rescind its jail order.
That challenge will be heard next Monday.
Zuma, 79, was forced out of office in 2018 and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa after a nine-year tenure stained by corruption scandals and the taint of cronyism.
Critics nicknamed him the “Teflon president” for his perceived ability to sidestep justice.
But his fortunes changed on June 29 when the court issued its damning judgement against him for contempt.
Zuma had refused to obey a court order to appear before a commission probing the siphoning-off of state assets under his presidency.
– Clout –
Prison officials said Zuma checked into the prison, renovated in 2019, some 200 kilometres away from his Nkandla homestead at around 1:00 am (2300 GMT).
At the weekend he defiantly declared he was prepared to go prison, even though “sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death.”
That was after he had told his supporters that there would be chaos if police “dared” arrest him.
Despite his tarnished reputation, the former president carries substantial weight among officials and grassroots members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
The former herdboy was the ANC’s intelligence chief during the armed struggle against apartheid and spent 10 years in jail on notorious Robben Island.
Despite its internal tensions and divisions, the ANC said it would not interfere with the judiciary processes enveloping Zuma.
Zuma has also been accused of involvement in a bribery affair dating back more than 20 years.
He faces 16 charges of fraud, graft, and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats, and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand, then the equivalent of nearly $5 billion.