South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma hands himself over to police
South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma is in police custody after handing himself in to serve 15 months in jail for contempt of court.
Police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba confirmed Zuma, 79, was in the care of the police service, in compliance with a constitutional court judgment, on Wednesday night. Earlier Zuma’s foundation said he would hand himself in.
Prison authorities confirmed that Zuma “has been admitted to start serving a 15 months sentence at Estcourt Correctional Centre” in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is the first time a former president has been jailed in post-apartheid South Africa.
The constitutional court sentenced Zuma last week for defying an instruction earlier this year to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine years in power until 2018.
Police had been instructed to arrest him by the end of Wednesday if he failed to turn himself in. South African TV stations carried images of Zuma’s motorcade leaving his house and arriving at the correctional facility.
The Zuma Foundation statement said: “Dear South Africans and the world. Please be advised that president Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a correctional services facility in KZN.” A further statement would follow later, it said.
Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla tweeted that he was “still in high spirits” and that “he said that he hopes they still have his same overalls from Robben Island… We salute dad!”
Zuma’s decision to obey the Constitutional Court order comes after a week of rising tensions over his prison sentence.
Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt because he defied a court order for him to testify before a judicial commission investigating widespread allegations of corruption during his time as the country’s president, from 2009 to 2018.
In a last-minute plea to avoid going to prison, Zuma’s lawyers had written to the acting chief justice requesting that his arrest be suspended until Friday, when a regional court is to rule on his application to postpone the arrest.
His lawyers asked the acting chief justice to issue directives stopping the police from arresting him, claiming there would be a “prejudice to his life.”
The top court met late Wednesday, according to local reports, but apparently rejected the request. Zuma had also launched two court proceedings to avoid arrest after his sentence last week.
Political tensions have risen in KwaZulu-Natal province as a result of Zuma’s prison sentence. Hundreds of his supporters gathered at his home over the weekend and vowed to prevent his arrest, but they left on Sunday.
Although tarnished by scandal now, Zuma had built up a reputation as a staunch opponent of apartheid, South Africa’s previous regime of harsh white minority rule. He was jailed for 10 years at the Robben Island prison where political prisoners including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were held.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report