The foundation representing South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma, sentenced to jail for defying a top court, condemned the judgment as unconstitutional Wednesday, as loyalists travelled to their ex-leader’s home ahead of a deadline to turn himself in by the end of the week or face arrest.
In an unprecedented ruling, the Constitutional Court on Tuesday convicted Zuma for “egregious” and “aggravated” contempt of court after he refused to comply with an order to appear before graft investigators.
The verdict triggered a show of support from the dwindling numbers of Zuma’s still fervent supporters, some of whom made their way to his rural home in the eastern town of Nkandla to express their solidarity.
The ex-president’s foundation on Wednesday described the judgment that handed down the 15-month jail sentence as “emotional”, “angry” and “not consistent with our constitution”.
“The Constitutional Court majority acted contrary to the rule of law,” the Jacob Zuma Foundation said in a late-night statement, adding that lawyers would soon provide “legal advice on the options available”.
Zuma, 79, is accused of enabling the plunder of state coffers during his nine years in office, which ended in February 2018 when he was forced out by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Before he left office, he responded to mounting pressure by setting up an investigative commission, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
He was ordered on Tuesday to be jailed after years of failure to testify before the panel.
Zondo has welcomed the verdict, telling a news conference earlier on Wednesday that this is “a very important judgement for our country”.
“It vindicates the rule of law in our country, it vindicates the supremacy of our constitution, it reaffirms the principle that we are all equal before the law,” Zondo said.
But, he added, “one wishes that it had never become necessary to reach this point.”
– ‘High spirits’ –
Close associates meanwhile said Zuma’s morale was good and his famously jovial energy undimmed by his conviction.
“He is in high spirits, bouncing like a tennis ball,” his spokesman Mzwanele Manyi told AFP. “If it was me, I would have lost appetite, he has not lost appetite.”
“I think the reason he is like that is that his soul is intact, his conscience is intact,” he added.
One of his daughters, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, tweeted pictures of Zuma laughing in a navy-blue checkered suit, and wrote “Reunited With @PresJGZuma And He Is Still In High Spirits”.
His lawyers are still formulating a response to the ruling.
Despite numerous attempts by the commission to get Zuma to comply and him shunning the contempt case hearing, Manyi said the former president should have had a trial.
“If you are going to incarcerate somebody, surely that person should go through a trial,” he said, accusing the judges of being “emotional” in their ruling.
But the foundation for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel-winning anti-apartheid campaigner, said, “We have arrived at a pivotal moment in our history, one of which we can all be proud.”
“In 1994, after hundreds of years of cruel injustice through colonialism and apartheid, South Africans voted for a constitutional democracy in which all are equal before the law,” it said in a statement.
Zuma is separately facing 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.