South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma hands himself in to police
South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma is on his way to jail after handing himself in to police to serve 15 months in jail for contempt of court, ending almost a week of defiance from his homestead in the south-eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma’s decision to abandon his fight against imprisonment averts a potentially violent confrontation between his supporters and police, and will relieve senior officials of the ruling African National Congress party (ANC).
The police ministry spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, confirmed Zuma was in the care of the police service, in compliance with a constitutional court judgment, early on Thursday and prison authorities later confirmed he “has been admitted to start serving a 15 months sentence at Estcourt Correctional Centre” in his home province.
It is the first time a former president has been jailed in post-apartheid South Africa and will be seen as a landmark for rule of law in the troubled country, as well as a victory for the president, Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa ousted Zuma, who faced a slew of corruption allegations, in 2018 after taking over the leadership of the ANC the previous year.
The jailing of Zuma will further strengthen the moderate and pragmatic faction of the ruling party, and significantly undermine the entrenched networks within government and South Africa’s bureaucracy loyal to Zuma, analysts say.
“Jacob Zuma’s fate is but a symptom of a deep, dramatic power shift within the ANC,” wrote Stephen Grootes on the Daily Maverick news website.
The constitutional court sentenced Zuma last week for defying an instruction earlier this year to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine years in power until 2018.
Police had been instructed to arrest him by the end of Wednesday if he failed to turn himself in. South African TV stations carried images of Zuma’s motorcade leaving his house and arriving at the correctional facility.
The Zuma Foundation statement said: “Dear South Africans and the world. Please be advised that President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a correctional services facility in KZN.” A further statement would follow later, it said.
The former president, who was previously imprisoned by the racist apartheid regime in power in South Africa until 1994, had argued he had been sentenced to jail without trial. He also told courts and the media both that he was prepared to go to jail and that he should not be imprisoned because of health concerns.
Senior ANC officials had warned Zuma his defiance risked bringing the party into disrepute and so faced internal disciplinary proceedings. There was also anger at his supporters’ flouting of Covid-19 regulations at a time when South Africa is struggling to control a third wave of infections.
The party, which has been hit by corruption scandals linked to Covid-19 spending and has been widely criticised for its handling of the pandemic, called for members to remain calm in a statement on Thursday.
“The ANC has always restated its unequivocal commitment to and defence of the constitution, in particular the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary amongst the founding principles of the republic of South Africa,” it said.
Zuma came to power in 2009, picked by the ANC to reconnect the party with grassroots supporters after the rule of Thabo Mbeki, who was seen as distant and uncharismatic. Zuma, a former security chief for the party, was jailed for 10 years at the Robben Island prison where political prisoners including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were held.
Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla tweeted that he was “still in high spirits” and that “he said that he hopes they still have his same overalls from Robben Island … We salute dad!”
Political tensions have risen in KwaZulu-Natal province as a result of Zuma’s prison sentence. Hundreds of his supporters gathered at his home over the weekend and vowed to prevent his arrest, but they left on Sunday.