After a drama that activists believed culminated in a win for the rule of law, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, Jacob Zuma, began a 15-month term for contempt of court on Thursday.

Zuma, 79, was sentenced to prison early Thursday after launching a last-ditch legal challenge and inciting resistance among radical fans who gathered at his rural home.

His fight captivated the nation, drawing attention to the issue of impunity as well as divisions within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

On June 29, South Africa's top court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for refusing to testify in a corruption investigation that engulfed his nine years in power.

As police warned he faced arrest from midnight Wednesday, Zuma handed himself in to a jail in the rural town of Estcourt in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

His arrest was welcomed by many South Africans as a watershed moment for the country's fledgling democracy.

Former anti-corruption prosecutor Thuli Madonsela described it as "a major step forward in the country's rule of law jourAccording to the Democratic Alliance, which is in opposition to the government, "The law cannot be mocked or defied without repercussions. If the leader can go to jail, then anyone may."

The court stressed, however, that the contempt penalty did not address the greater corruption, fraud, and racketeering that plagued Zuma's presidency.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation shared this sentiments."

Also Read: French court allows Cairn energy to seize 20 Indian govt assets in Paris


"On a human level, however, it's a sad moment since it could have been avoided. We didn't need a 79-year-old former head of state and champion of the liberation movement to go to jail simply because he doesn't want to be held accountable "she said.

According to the Democratic Alliance, which is in opposition to the government, "The law cannot be mocked or defied without repercussions. If the leader can go to jail, then anyone may."

The court stressed, however, that the contempt penalty did not address the greater corruption, fraud, and racketeering that plagued Zuma's presidency.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation shared this sentiment.

"His legal strategy has been one of obfuscation and delay, with the ultimate goal of rendering our judicial systems incomprehensible," it stated.

The foundation warned that "it is tempting to consider Mr Zuma's detention as the end of the road" rather than "merely another phase... in a long and tumultuous trip."

Flawed president 
Zuma began his life as an uneducated herdboy before joining the ANC and becoming its intelligence head during the anti-apartheid campaign.

His charisma and bravery earned him a spot with Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and other liberation heroes, including ten years on notorious Robben Island.

He became democratic South Africa's third president in 2009, however his presidency proved to be a tenure darkened by divisions and the stench of corruption.

The ANC forced Zuma out in 2018 and replaced him with Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who became a businessman after apartheid was finally abolished 30 years ago.

Investigators claim that under Zuma, associates stole off billions of dollars in state assets.

Also Read: International Flights to resume services soon, Indians can fly to Canada, Maldives and Germany

However, their attempts to get Zuma to testify were unsuccessful. For his alleged ability to avoid justice, critics dubbed him the "Teflon president.”


Defiance
Zuma has been given a Sunday night deadline to turn himself in. If he does not surrender, authorities have three days to arrest him, which ends at midnight on Wednesday.


He filed a last-ditch appeal to the Constitutional Court, pleading with it to reverse the arrest and cancel the punishment. On Monday, the court will hear the plea.

Defying the initial deadline, Zuma said over the weekend that he was willing to serve time in prison, despite the fact that "sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sending me to death."

He stated, "I am not afraid of going to jail for my convictions." "I've already spent over ten years on Robben Island, in really harsh and terrible circumstances.”

As the deadline drew on Wednesday, police indicated they were ready to make the arrest.

Zuma left his house in a convoy of automobiles minutes before midnight, travelling through dark country roads "to comply with the jail order."

He will be eligible for parole in just under four months, so he could be back home by Christmas.

Zuma is in "in good spirits and has taken his breakfast,...his medication," Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said after visiting the prison.

Lamola remarked, "He's being looked after, his jolly good self, laughing."

Some South Africans voiced sympathy for Zuma in the public.

Sharon Mayisela, a 40-year-old waitress, remarked, "I'm sure he's extremely stressed right now."

"Perhaps they could just do home arrest," she speculated.

"This is where President Zuma, a 79-year-old grandfather, is imprisoned without trial," his foundation tweeted, posting a nighttime photo of the correctional services facility where Zuma is held.

"The country is reverting to apartheid-era days."

 ANC stress
The crisis has fuelled tensions inside the ANC, with Zuma loyalists clamouring for his hero's defence while others urge that the law be allowed to run its course.

"Be tough now because things will get better," said Ace Magashule, a Zuma ally who was suspended as ANC secretary general on fraud allegations.

"It may be stormy right now, but it cannot continue to rain forever. We keep going."

The party stated in a statement that "without a doubt, this is a tough era in the movement," but urged members to "stay calm and respect Zuma's choice" to follow the court orders.

In an arms procurement controversy dating back to 1999, while he was vice president, he faces 16 allegations of fraud, graft, and racketeering.

You Might Also Like