Johannesburg: Former South African president Jacob Zuma will not have to hand himself over to police on Sunday to start the 15-month jail sentence imposed on him by the country’s apex court for contempt, after he consistently refused to appear at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. The Constitutional Court said on Saturday that it will hear an application filed by Zuma on July 12 to have the ruling rescinded, effectively giving him a reprieve of one more week.
Informed sources said that 79-year-old Zuma has cited his age, unspecified medical conditions, and the upcoming third wave of COVID-19 pandemic as posing a threat to his life as some of the reasons for the court to rescind its ruling. “I am advised that before I walk through the prison doors to serve my sentence as the first direct prisoner of the Constitutional Court under our constitutional democracy, it will not be futile to make one last attempt to invite the Constitutional Court to relook its decision and to merely reassess whether it has acted within the Constitution or, erroneously, beyond the powers vested in the court by the Constitution," Independent Online quoted Zuma’s plea as reading.
The decision of the court came amid rising tensions as scores of ANC military veterans and other supporters gathered outside Zuma’s homestead in rural Nkandla for the past three days, with many threatening violence if he is taken away to prison. The African National Congress, which ousted Zuma three years ago amid widespread public outcry following allegations of his involvement in alleged corrupt activities, sent some of its most senior politicians to the Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal in an attempt to ease the tensions.
Political analysts said that Zuma could have raised these issues if he had complied with a request from the court to appear in person, which he refused to do. Others said it was a continuation of Zuma’s delaying tactics, which have seen separate criminal charges of corruption against him, being repeatedly adjourned for over a decade now. Zuma’s spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said the decision to hear Zuma’s application was positive for public faith in the independence of the judiciary as it showed that the court was willing to listen to the reasons behind it. Previously, Zuma had publicly challenged this independence, even alleging that members of the judiciary were corrupt, without providing any evidence for it.
The former president had also repeatedly refused to appear before the Commission, where various witnesses have implicated him in corrupt activities, especially because of his alleged close relationship to the Gupta brothers — Atul, Ajay and Rajesh — who are now wanted for looting the country’s state and parastatal coffers of billions of rands. The Gupta family is believed to be in self-exile in Dubai, with South Africa having initiated extradition proceedings to return them for trial.
Earlier, the Commission’s chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said that Zuma had been given numerous opportunities to answer the allegations but he had declined to do so. Manyi said Zuma would address the nation at 6 pm on Sunday.
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