Former South African president Jacob Zuma (Photo by JACKIE CLAUSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
SOUTH Africa’s Constitutional Court, the country’s topmost judicial body, on Tuesday (29) handed over the country’s former president Jacob Zuma a 15-month jail term for contempt of court after he refused to abide by its order to appear before investigators into corruption when he was in power. Zuma, 79, has been given five days to surrender before the police failing which the police will be asked to arrest him.
This is the first time in the history of the African nation that a former president has been sentenced to prison.
Zuma served as the fourth president of South Africa between 2009 and 2018 and his tenure in office was dogged by allegations of corruption.
The leader was accused of allowing plunder of state coffers during his stay in office. Most of the corruption investigated by the commission that Zuma himself set up before leaving office under mounting pressure saw involvement of three brothers from a wealth Indian family – the Guptas. It has been alleged that the Indian family bagged lucrative government contracts and even had a big say in choosing cabinet ministers.
The inquiry against Zuma, led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, established following an ombudsman report that sought an investigation into charges of improper contact between senior members of the former Zuma administration and the Gupta brothers, all of whom fled South Africa after Zuma’s own party, the African National Congress, decided to remove him.
Zuma refused the charges against him and did not appear to testify before a judicial panel in February. He only testified once which was in July 2019 before staging a walkout days later accusing Zondo of bias. Thereafter, the former president overlooked several invitations to reappear, including an order from the Constitutional Court in January, citing medical reasons and preparations for another corruption trial as reasons.
I am left with no option but get Zuma arrested, says judge
Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe said in her ruling on Zuma on Tuesday that while Zuma refused to appear before the court to explain his actions, he was making “provocative, unmeritorious and vituperative statements” as a calculated effort to question the judiciary’s integrity.
“I am left with no option but to commit Mr Zuma to imprisonment, with the hope that doing so sends an unequivocal message… the rule of law and the administration of justice prevails,” she said.
Zuma was not in the court to hear the ruling and has repeatedly said that he was a victim of a political conspiracy.
The politician faces several legal troubles and pleaded not guilty last month in a separate corruption trial on an arms deal in 1999 when he was serving as the deputy to former president Thabo Mbeki.
BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding said a number of South Africans would be happy with the court’s decision which they felt would establish the rule of law, something which was being perceived to have been eroded by a culture of high-level impunity. He also said the ruling will affect the ruling party itself and the hands of incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa, who has repeatedly vowed to expose corruption, will be strengthened.