The Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa, is due to reconsider this Monday, July 12 the fifteen-month prison sentence it imposed on former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of justice.
Zuma’s lawyers wrote to the court on Wednesday asking it to suspend the arrest of their client, to wait for a court to rule on his imprisonment or until the Constitutional Court itself had heard the request for review of his conviction by the former president.
In the meantime, Mr. Zuma, 79, was taken prisoner just before the ultimatum set for midnight Wednesday. And the court in Pietermaritzburg (east) said on Friday that Mr. Zuma’s arguments, on his old age and the health risks of contracting the Covid in prison, were not “Not supported”.
This court acknowledged that it had no jurisdiction to challenge a judgment emanating from the highest court. But he also severely denounced “Judicial adventurism” supporters of Mr. Zuma – long known as the president « Teflon » because of his talent for evading justice – which he said sought to train him to “Make fancy orders”.
Before this decision, the Constitutional Court had already agreed to hear the arguments of the former state member and set the hearing for Monday, without imagining that it would be the day after looting and fires started in Zulu country and then in Johannesburg by the news of his imprisonment, against a background of economic despair linked to confinement.
Lawyers for the president, removed from power in 2018, due to corruption scandals, are expected to make the same arguments about his health. But also to argue that the prison is not an appropriate sentence in view of the offense constituted, said the Constitutional Court in a summary presented to the media on Saturday.
Jacob Zuma was convicted of contempt of justice on June 29 after several refusals to testify before the commission charged with investigating state corruption under his chairmanship (2009-2018). He has been sleeping since Thursday, July 8 in the modern prison of Estcourt, located in Zulu country, near the Drakensberg mountain range.
Like any prisoner, Mr. Zuma is eligible for parole after serving a quarter of his sentence, or nearly four months. It is not the subject of “Less favoritism” in prison, where he is “Treated like any other inmate”, without “Bodyguards or special security”, said Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
For months, Mr. Zuma has been playing cat and mouse with the anti-corruption commission he set up in early 2018 just before his fall, in an attempt to convince that he had nothing to be ashamed of.
The growing tension linked to his refusal to testify led to an impasse, while he was questioned by some forty witnesses before this advisory commission, whose conclusions could however be transmitted to the prosecution.
The former president testified there only once, in July 2019, quickly slamming the door, saying he was offended to be treated like a ” accused “ and not as a witness. Several missed appointments followed, Mr. Zuma invoking a different reason each time.