South Africa woke up to TV images of its former president Jacob Zuma’s convoy arriving at the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal where he handed himself over to police to begin serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma has been admitted to Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, to begin serving his 15-month sentence on contempt of court charges, after handing himself over to police in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Zuma’s compliance and subsequent incarceration follows a tense few days at the former president’s homestead in Nkandla, where Zuma, his allies and supporters, made statements illustrating his intent not to comply with the court order.
Zuma’s attorneys made a last-minute attempt to stay his arrest, arguing that his incarceration was a threat to his life and based on attempts to vilify the former president; “… based purely on vindictiveness and desire to see Zuma punished…” said Zuma’s counsel Dali Mpofu during an urgent High Court hearing on Tuesday.
The Constitutional Court handed down the sentence against Zuma on June 29 in a judgement that has had profound legal and political implications for South Africa. The first custodial sentence ever passed by the court follows Zuma’s refusal to appear at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture earlier in the year. Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe was firm in her pronouncement of the judgement: “I order an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment of 15 months. I do so in the knowledge that this cannot properly capture the damage that Mr Zuma has done to the dignity and integrity of the judicial system of a democratic and constitutional nation. He owes this sentence in respect of violating not only this Court, nor even just the sanctity of the Judiciary, but to the nation he once promised to lead and to the Constitution he once vowed to uphold.”
Hundreds of Zuma’s supporters gathered outside his home in Nkandla since last week to protest the impending arrest, in breach of South African Covid-19 regulations, with some attendees discharging firearms into the air. However, South African police were hesitant to make arrests or enforce Covid guidelines for fear of sparking violence – reflected in Minister of Police Bheki Cele’s writing to the Constitutional Court to query whether the Police Service should proceed with Zuma’s arrest warrant despite a lower court application to set the said warrant aside.
However, with no response from the Constitutional Court by late on Wednesday afternoon, a large police presence, which included an air wing and specialized units, could be seen mobilizing some 100km from Zuma’s home, preparing to enforce the warrant and arrest Zuma. By this point, only a handful of die-hard supporters and relatives remained outside Zuma’s home.
“We will be stopping anybody who will want to incarcerate Jacob Zuma… They will have to shed blood for that because we are going to be defending him with our lives,” said Edward Zuma, the former president’s eldest son, as he gathered with fellow supporters outside Nkandla late last night.
Despite the strong rhetoric from many Zuma allies and fears of violence, Zuma left his homestead in the early hours of this morning in a motorcade, handing himself over to police at Estcourt Correctional Centre, where he is currently in Covid-19 isolation as is protocol, Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed in a statement. Details regarding his incarceration are expected to be announced at a media briefing later today.
It’s the first time a former president has been jailed in post-apartheid South Africa and Zuma’s incarceration is being regarded as a landmark for judicial enforcement in the country.
Many political parties issued statements noting Zuma’s compliance with the court, including the African National Congress. “Former President Jacob Zuma’s decision to abide by the incarceration order was truly a brave and hard decision to make. We wish him well”.
Zuma’s stay in prison could potentially be extended pending the outcome of outstanding criminal cases against him.