On June 29, 2021, the Constitutional Court found former President Jacob Zuma guilty of contempt of court following his defiance of the Zondo Commission’s summons to appear before the Inquiry, and his defiance to explain his actions to the Constitutional Court despite numerous invitations. Justice Sisi Khampepe, Acting Chief Justice, delivered this judgment stating that the Constitutional Court’s authority and legitimacy has never subjected to the kinds of attacks Zuma launched against it. The Court then sentenced him to 15 months in jail, ordering Zuma to hand himself in within five days or be arrested by police, Wednesday 7 July.
After missing the 4 July deadline to hand himself over, Mr Zuma’s lawyers launched two legal challenges in an attempt to keep him out of prison.
The first was an application to stay his arrest, while the other was a rescission application which is expected to be argued on Monday 12 July 2021. In a surprising turn of events the former President handed himself over to the police on Wednesday night and was transported to the Estcourt Correctional Facility in KwaZulu Natal. Mr Zuma is expected to serve his 15-month sentence there. The Facility has a hospital section for assessment and the former President will be isolated for the first 14 days in line with the Covid-19 protocols.
The former Presidents’ application to stay his arrest was dismissed with cost on Friday 9 July, as the court had no jurisdiction over the matter. His lawyers will attempt to persuade the Constitutional Court to rescind its ruling or at least re-evaluate its decision to jail him given his advanced age and undisclosed health conditions. Legal experts warn that the application is likely to fail as there was no obvious error in the judgement, and the applicant did not participate as he opted not to do so, and therefore it was not non-participation through no fault of their own. Nevertheless, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, states that the former president may be eligible for parole after serving a quarter of his sentence.
The former director-general in the Presidency, Reverend Frank Chikane, suggested that Zuma be granted a presidential pardon, if he applies for one. However, the pardon process is not available to those who maintain their innocence and it is not an advanced form of appeal procedure. It is an alternative option for serious crimes, where direct imprisonment was received or a fine exceeding R20,000 was paid. Talks of presidential pardon is premature as his legal process has not been finalized. In other words, should President Zuma be found guilty of the various charges he confronts, then he can apply for a presidential pardon. The latter, of course, is in no way guaranteed.
The imprisonment of the former President is regarded as a victory for constitutionalism and carries a lesson for the global community that constitutional supremacy can be defended if there is a political willingness to do so. It is hoped that Jacob Zuma’s incarceration would be the beginning of further arrests to be made for those who have broken the law and looted the country. Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment is the response from the rest of Africa. Many citizens have been buoyed, drawning inspiration from South Africa’s judicial independence as they have grown accustomed to their political elites not being held accountable for their actions.
In the interim, a wave of protests has broken around parts of KwaZulu Natal allegedly calling for the former President to be released. Protestors have blocked major highways and torched trucks on the N3 near Mooi River. Police have however not linked the protests to the arrest of the former President and state that it is opportunistic. Mzwanele Manyi, the spokesman of the Jacob Zuma Foundation however believes that the protestors are aggrieved at the alleged injustice to Jacob Zuma and have consequently taken their wrath to the streets. Ending his silence, President Ramaphosa has called for calm and action against the anarchists of KwaZulu-Natal, as the South African economy and the rule of law cannot afford such mayhem to continue.