South Africa

South Africa ex-president Zuma gets 15-months' jail for contempt of court

Zuma is one of the rare former African leaders to be facing trial.
Zuma is one of the rare former African leaders to be facing trial. POOL/AFP/File

In what is being hailed as one of the most significant legal decisions in South African history, the Constitutional Court has jailed disgraced former president Jacob Zuma for 15 months for contempt of court over his refusal to appear before graft investigators. 

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Zuma has five days to hand himself in to police. Failing this, Police Minister Bheki Cele has been ordered to do whatever necessary to ensure he goes to jail.

This is the first time a former president of South Africa has been sentenced to prison. Not even leaders during the apartheid era faced such punishment.

Zuma was handed the sentence after he defied a Constitutional Court order to appear before the Zondo Commission into state corruption.

He had earlier walked out of the commission, refusing to appear again if Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, whom he claims has close familial ties with him, recused himself.

‘Politically motivated’

Zuma accuses the state of mounting a politically motivated campaign against him.

The corruption charges he faces in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court involve five billion euros misappropriated before he was president.

He has rounded on the Constitutional Court saying it behaved like an apartheid institution.

Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe, reading the 7-2 majority judgment, regretted that Zuma “has elected to make unmeritorious, vituperative remarks calculated to impugn the integrity of the judiciary”.

She said it would serve no purpose to impose a suspended sentence on Zuma in the hope of getting him to comply because that would only give him further reason to delay.

She awarded punitive costs against Zuma.

Judicial discord

The ex-president’s spokesman Mzwanele Manyi say if the nine Constitutional Court judges could not agree on a ruling, it was surely not possible for a layman to accept it.

He would not comment on the whereabouts of Zuma who was not in the Constitutional Court and said a more comprehensive response to the judgement would be made later.

Split judgements are commonplace in the Constitutional Court and even the minority judgement agreed that Zuma was guilty of contempt of court.

Veterans of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the former military wing of the African National Congress when it was co-founded by Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre, have been sent to Zuma's home at Nkandla and have vowed to protect him from arrest.

‘In good spirits’

Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma Sambudla said she has spoken to her father since the judgement and found him in good spirits.

He plans to hand himself to police at Nkandla, she said, and members of his family will accompany him to Gauteng, which is currently closed to outsiders because of a tightening of Covid-19 restrictions imposed this week.

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