Former South African President Jacob Zuma, plagued by a series of corruption scandals, spent his first night in jail: a first for South Africa and a major test for the young democracy. Zuma had warned that “dare” to touch a hair on his head, the country will be in chaos…
AFP news from Johannesburg on July 8 said that after days of suspense, Zuma was already in jail, which caused widespread surprise.
Zuma had earned a glittering qualification alongside Mandela as the feared intelligence chief of the African National Congress (ANC) during his exile under apartheid in South Africa.
According to a tweet from Zuma’s foundation, “(former) President Zuma has decided to comply with the order to serve his sentence and has reported to prison in KwaZulu-Natal province.”
AFP said the fallen “freedom fighter” kept the nation in suspense until Wednesday, July 7, near midnight, the deadline set for him to go to prison.
A modern-day prison
Then a convoy of a dozen cars drove past his home in Nkandla, in the east of the country, and he was taken to the modern prison in Escourt, about 200 kilometers away, as a small group of die-hard supporters watched in disbelief.
Last week, South Africa’s Supreme Court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for “contempt of court” after he repeatedly evaded summons from the anti-corruption commission.
The commission was set up in 2018 in response to the scandal surrounding President Zuma. In the year Zuma was forced to resign, the body collected about 40 testimonies implicating Zuma.
No admission of guilt
In recent days, after multiple challenges, Mr. Zuma finally gave in and went to prison. But his spokesman, Mzwanele Manyi, said Zuma was not “admitting guilt. The spokesman warned this Thursday morning that Zuma needed time to digest the “tragedy” and that “he will remain silent” and “unreachable to the outside world.
A glorious day
The imprisonment of former President Zuma is a sign of a new era for many South Africans, marking a new era of stronger rule of law. In recent days, AFP said, many witnesses and participants have been repeating on television, like a “mantra,” that “no one is above the law.
Anti-corruption expert Thuli Madonsela called it “a glorious day because (Zuma’s imprisonment) shows that the rule of law has prevailed. If he hadn’t gone to jail, it would have had a knock-on effect on the whole system,” she said on state television today, Thursday.
In a scathing and shocking 2016 report, the former “republican mediator” detailed how the sibling group of Indian-origin businessman Gupta looted public resources during Zuma’s presidency (2009-2018).
Touching a hair on his head
Zuma’s middle name “Gedleyihlekisa” means “one who laughs when he crushes his enemies” in Zulu. Known as “stainless steel,” he did try to defend himself by emphasizing his 79 years of age, while accusing him of injustice and imprisoning him even before his trial, not unlike the methods of the hated apartheid regime.
However, his arguments, like his threat of national chaos if anyone “dared” to touch a hair on his head, did not have a mobilizing effect.
Police Minister Bheki Cele, who had been reluctant to arrest him, eventually changed his tune, saying he was obliged to respect the law and admitting he “did not intend to face contempt of court charges” for not carrying out the order.
Solidarity with Comrade Zuma
In South Africa’s post-apartheid democracy, the ANC, the historic ruling party since Mandela’s election in 1994, is also hailing the victory of “the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” although several of its leaders have expressed solidarity with “Comrade Zuma” in a personal capacity in recent days.
Mr. Zuma was given a new review of his sentence by the Constitutional Court on Monday before he was jailed. On July 19, he is expected to have another case: that of a commission case involving the French Thales group, more than 20 years ago. The court in Pietermaritzburg (East) will resume the trial in that case.