After failing to appear before a corruption probe earlier this year, Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court. Zuma, who served as president for nearly nine years until 2018, was not there to hear the decision and sentencing of the South African constitutional court. The former president has five days to turn himself in.
“There can be no question that Mr. Zuma is in contempt of court, according to the Constitutional Court. Mr. Zuma was served with the order, and it is difficult to conclude anything other than that he was fully aware of what was required of him,” acting chief judge Sisi Khampepe said.
She went on to say that while deciding on Zuma’s punishment, the court considered it difficult to assume that he would obey any other instruction. “Mr. Zuma has repeatedly reiterated that he would rather be imprisoned than to cooperate with the commission or comply with the order made,” Khampepe added.
In February, Zuma, 79, failed to attend before a corruption investigation conducted by Raymond Zondo, the deputy chief justice. During Zuma’s time in power, the investigation is looking into accusations of high-level graft. Zondo is pursuing a personal vengeance against the veteran politician, who denies wrongdoing. This is the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.
The corruption investigation was launched by Zuma himself, under pressure from the ruling African National Congress, just before he was deposed in 2018. But he only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout a few days later. He refused to return to court on multiple occasions, citing medical reasons and preparations for a new corruption trial as justifications.
In November, he reappeared for a brief appearance but departed before being questioned. Zuma is also charged with 16 counts of fraud, corruption, and racketeering in connection with the acquisition of fighter planes, patrol boats, and military equipment from five European weapons companies for 30 billion rand (about $5 billion) in 1999. Zuma was President Thabo Mbeki’s deputy at the time of the acquisition.
Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, a former labour leader turned billionaire, has made efforts to combat corruption. After a severe internal ANC feud and public fury over charges of incompetence and systematic corruption, Ramaphosa was elected president of South Africa.