Jacob Zuma led South Africa for nearly a third of its post-apartheid history and was an associate of Nelson Mandela’s during the freedom struggle
South Africa‘s top court on Tuesday ruled that former President Jacob Zuma was in contempt of court and handed him a sentence of 15 months imprisonment for defying court orders to appear before a corruption investigation spanning nine years of his term.
“Jacob Zuma was served with the order, and it is impossible to conclude anything other than that he was unequivocally aware of what it required of him,” said acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe, reported Washington Post. “I would rather ensure that this society is one in which deference is shown to the rule of law, than continue to try, with what I know will be to no avail, to compel this most recalcitrant of individuals,” she added.
Jacob Zuma will become the first former South African leader to be imprisoned. The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg gave the 79-year-old former President five days to hand himself over to a police station in his hometown of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province or in Johannesburg.
A further three-day grace period would be allowed to elapse before he should be forcefully detained, the ruling stated.
According to Washington Post, local news channels broadcasting from the Zuma family home in Nkandla showed a tense situation, with supporters vowing to prevent Zuma’s detention.
Jacob Zuma led South Africa for nearly a third of its post-apartheid history and was an associate of Nelson Mandela’s during the freedom struggle. During his term, corruption had become so entrenched that the allegations against him are termed as ‘state capture’.
He is being prosecuted separately on charges of racketeering, corruption, fraud and money laundering stemming from a deal with a French arms manufacturer in which he allegedly took bribes while he was deputy president in 1999.
“He will have to go to prison. He has recognized for several months now that his legal options have run out and that his only hope was to cause some political crisis,” said Richard Calland, associate professor of public law at the University of Cape Town.
Zuma had lost an internal party election of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to current president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2017 after a bitter internal battle nearly split the storied liberation party in two.
Ramaphosa campaigned partly on an anti-corruption platform and has since fired ministers and heads of state-owned institutions that he asserted were being mismanaged and taken aim at top officials within the party, forcing them to step down and face charges similar to Zuma’s.