Former South African President Jacob Zuma surrendered to the police on Wednesday and began 15 months in jail for contempt of court. This is the culmination of a long legal drama and is seen as a test of the ability of post-apartheid countries to enforce the rule of law.
Police spokesperson Lirandzu Themba confirmed in a statement that Zuma, who served as president from 2009 to 2018, has been detained by the police according to the Constitutional Court’s ruling last week.
The court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for disobeying a February order and providing evidence in a corruption investigation during his nine-year tenure as president. The investigation was led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
The police have said that if Zuma fails to show up at the police station, they will arrest him before the end of Wednesday. Hundreds of his supporters, some of them armed with guns, spears and shields, gathered near his rural homestead in Encandela, eastern South Africa, to try to prevent him from being arrested.
But in the end, 79-year-old Zuma decided to leave quietly.
It is believed that the convoy carrying Zuma drove out of his home at high speed about 40 minutes before the deadline for him to surrender.
“Please note that (former) President Zuma has decided to comply with the imprisonment order,” his foundation tweeted, marking the first time that Zuma’s camp has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the court.
“He is on his way to KZN’s correctional services facility,” it added, just a few minutes before the deadline.
For a respected veteran of the African National Congress, this was a great depravity. He was imprisoned by a South African minority ruler for participating in the struggle to make all people equal before the law.
Zuma’s daughter, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, said on Twitter that he was “on the road and he is still in good spirits”.
“He said he wanted them to have his work clothes on Robben Island… We salute Dad!” she wrote on Twitter.
Zuma denied widespread corruption during his administration and made provocative comments on Sunday, slamming the judge and challenging his arrest.
His lawyer on Wednesday asked the Constitutional Court to suspend the order for the police to arrest him before midnight, awaiting the result of his questioning of the sentence.
Zuma was forced to step down in 2018 due to corruption scandals and nepotism during his nine-year tenure and was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.
Critics call him “President Teflon” because he believes he has the ability to evade justice.
The Zondo committee is reviewing allegations that he allowed three Indian-born businessmen, Atul, Ajay, and Rajesh Gupta, to plunder the country’s resources and transportation and its impact on government policy. He and the Gupta brothers who fled to Dubai after Zuma left denied any wrongdoing.
Zuma also faces another court case involving a $2 billion arms deal when he was vice president in 1999. He denied these allegations. The former president insisted that he was a victim of a political witch hunt, and Zondo had a prejudice against him.
Despite the damage to his reputation, the former president occupies an important position among ANC officials and grassroots members.
Over the weekend, he told his supporters that if the police “dared” arrest him, it would cause chaos.
In the armed struggle against apartheid, the former shepherd boy was the intelligence director of the African National Congress.
Despite internal tensions, the African National Congress has stated that it will not interfere in the judicial process.
Party spokesman Premad told reporters earlier, “We respect the independence of the judiciary.”