South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has been sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court.
The country’s top court on Tuesday found Zuma, 79, guilty following his refusal to appear before a corruption inquiry earlier this year.
Zuma was told to turn himself in within five days, failing which police will be ordered to arrest him and take him to jail.
The ruling sets a precedent for South Africa – and a benchmark for the continent – by jailing a former head of state for failing to respond to a corruption probe.
South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma (pictured in May) has been sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court. South Africa’s top court on Tuesday found Zuma, 79, guilty following his refusal to appear before a graft panel.
‘The Constitutional Court can do nothing but conclude that Mr Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court,’ judge Sisi Khampepe said. ‘This kind of recalcitrance and defiance is unlawful and will be punished.’
Zuma is accused of enabling the plunder of state coffers during his nearly nine-year stay in office.
‘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,’ Khampepe said.
‘The majority judgement orders an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment for a period (of 15 months),’ she declared, ordering Zuma to hand himself over within five days.
If Zuma fails to turn himself in within five days South Africa’s minister of police and the police commissioner have been ordered to take him into custody within three days. This is the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.
The commission of inquiry is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
The panel was set up by Zuma himself, under pressure over mounting scandals, shortly before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Pictured: Judge Sisi Khampepe reads during a ruling on whether former South African president Jacob Zuma should be punished for defying summons at an inquiry into corruption during his time in power, at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 29, 2021
But he only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout days later and accusing the commission’s Zondo of bias.
He then ignored several invitations to reappear, citing medical reasons and preparations for another corruption trial.
He presented himself again briefly in November but left before questioning, and Zondo asked to ask the Constitutional Court to intervene.
Khampepe ordered Zuma to hand himself over to the police in Johannesburg or in Nkandla, a rural town in southeastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province where he has a home, within five calendar days.
If ‘Mr Zuma does not submit himself… the minister of police… must within three calendar days of the expiry stipulated of the period… take all steps that are necessary and permissible in law to make sure that Mr Zuma is delivered to a correctional centre in order to commence the sentence,’ said the judge.
Most of the graft investigated by the commission involve three brothers from a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative government contracts and were allegedly even able to choose cabinet ministers.
Zuma is separately facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand, then the equivalent of nearly $5 billion.
At the time of the purchase, Zuma was president Thabo Mbeki’s deputy.
He is accused of accepting bribes totalling four million rand (around £200,000) from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.
April 12, 1942: Zuma is born in rural Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province. He grows up without formal schooling.
1963: A member of the armed wing of the ANC, he is convicted of trying to overthrow the apartheid government and serves 10 years on the Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela.
1973: Freed, he sets up underground ANC networks and then is the group’s chief of intelligence from Zambia.
1990: After 15 years mostly spent in exile, he returns to South Africa when the ANC is unbanned. He is key in talks that lead to a national unity government after the first all-race elections, in 1994, won by the ANC.
Jacob Zuma is pictured meeting the Queen in a wreath-laying ceremony in Durban in 1999, when he was deputy president
1997: He becomes the ANC’s vice president. Two years later he is elected deputy president of the country.
2006: He is cleared of rape charges but ridiculed for testifying he took a shower after consensual sex with his HIV-positive accuser.
2009: Two years after ousting Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader, he is elected president. He is re-elected in 2014.
Jacob Zuma pictured the day before the South African general election in 2009 when he was elected president
2016: A top court finds he flouted the constitution by using public funds to upgrade his private residence. An anti-corruption watchdog meanwhile charges he allowed a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, undue influence over his government.
2017: Zuma fires his finance minister, unleashing open war in the ANC.
August 2017: He survives a fourth impeachment vote since 2015.
December 2017: He is replaced as ANC chief by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, and comes under pressure to quit the presidency early, ahead of the next elections.
February 14, 2018: Resigns from the presidency after the ANC threatens a no-confidence vote in parliament.