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Former South African President Jacob Zuma ordered to jail for contempt of court

Former South African President Jacob Zuma
Former South African President Jacob Zuma appears in court in October 2019.
(Michele Spatari / Pool Photo)

Former South African President Jacob Zuma has been found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 15 months in prison for defying a court order to appear before an inquiry probing wide-ranging allegations of corruption during his time in office from 2009 to 2018.

Zuma was not in court for the ruling and has been ordered to hand himself over within five days to a police station in his hometown of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province or in Johannesburg.

This is the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.

The country’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, ruled Tuesday that Zuma had defied its order by refusing to cooperate with the commission of inquiry, which is chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

“The Constitutional Court holds that there can be no doubt that Mr. Zuma is in contempt of court. Mr. 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.

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She added that in determining the jail sentence for Zuma, the court found it impossible to conclude that he would comply with any other order.

South Africa is imposing a sweeping set of coronavirus restrictions as the country faces a third, variant-driven wave of infection.

“Mr. Zuma has repeatedly reiterated that he would rather be imprisoned than to cooperate with the commission or comply with the order made,” said Khampepe.

Zuma has previously expressed his unwillingness to appear before the commission, which has so far heard evidence directly implicating Zuma in wrongdoing.

In a previous 21-page letter written to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, which the court has described as “scandalous,” Zuma claimed that he was ready to be sent to prison.

In his letter, which he released to the public, Zuma accused the commission chairman, Zondo, of being biased against him and alleged that the evidence presented against him was politically motivated.

Jacob Zuma stepped down as president of South Africa on Wednesday, leaving a nation weakened by his nine years of rule yet in the hands of the same political party — the African National Congress — that has won every election since universal suffrage began in 1994.

Some former Cabinet ministers, high-ranking government officials and executives of state-owned enterprises are among witnesses who have implicated Zuma in corruption.

Several have testified that, while president, Zuma allowed members of the controversial Gupta family to influence his appointment of Cabinet ministers and awarding of lucrative contracts at state-owned companies.

Zuma is also facing additional legal woes as he is standing trial on charges related to bribes that he allegedly received during South Africa’s 1999 arms procurement deal.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his lawyers have applied for the lead prosecutor in his case to step down because of alleged bias.


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