JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, 79, on July 4, 2021, refused to serve a 15-months prison sentence handed down to him by the Constitutional Court on June 29.

Zuma, who ruled the country between 2009 and 2018, failed to comply with a court order before a state commission conducting a corruption inquiry. 

“Zuma was served with the order, and it is impossible to conclude anything other than that he was unequivocally aware of what is required of him,” said acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe while delivering the ruling in the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg.

On July 2, Zuma filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, terming the sentence he received “cruel and degrading.”

“The sentence reminds our people of apartheid days. Sending someone to jail without trial could be a travesty to our justice,” Zuma told journalists outside his home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.

“The fact that I was lambasted with a punitive jail sentence without trial should engender shock in all those who believe in freedom and the rule of law. South Africa is fast sliding back to apartheid rule.”

The Constitutional Court had given Zuma five days to hand himself over to a police station in Nkandla or Johannesburg.

A further three-day grace period would be allowed to elapse before he should be forcefully detained, the ruling stated. A deadline for him to voluntarily surrender to authorities was set for midnight on July 4. 

Local news channels broadcasting from the Zuma family home in Nkandla showed a tense situation, with supporters vowing to prevent Zuma’s detention.

Hundreds of his supporters formed a human shield around his home to prevent the police from arresting him, defying Covid-19 containment regulations.

 “[There is] no need for me to go to jail today. Sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death,” Zuma told reporters.

Zuma led South Africa for nearly a third of its post-apartheid history and was Mandela’s associate during the freedom struggle. 

During his term, corruption became so entrenched that the allegations against him are termed “state capture.”

Zuma is being prosecuted separately on racketeering charges, 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.

While he was not charged for any crime related to the deal at the time, his reputation was tarnished after his friend and former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of corruption and fraud in the arms scandal.

Consequently, President Thabo Mbeki in 2005 sacked him as deputy president.

However, in December 2007, Zuma turned tables on Mbeki by orchestrating the ruling African National Party congress to pass a vote of no-confidence in him, leading to his resignation.

He then took the reins of the ruling party and, consequently, that of South Africa.

However, precisely ten years later, in December 2017, Zuma was on the receiving end of similar political machinations from his deputy-now-President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Kipchumba Some)

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