Former South African president Jacob Zuma was on Tuesday handed a 15-month jail sentence by South Africa’s top court for contempt of court following his refusal to appear before graft investigators.
The panel, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. was set up by Zuma himself, under pressure over mounting scandals, shortly before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Zuma only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout days later and accusing the commission’s Zondo of bias.
He then ignored subsequent invitations to reappear, citing medical reasons and preparations for another corruption trial.
Zuma presented himself again briefly in November but left before questioning, and Zondo asked to ask the Constitutional Court to intervene.
“The Constitutional Court can do nothing but conclude that Mr Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court,” judge Sisi Khampepe said.
Zuma, 79, who served as the president of South Africa between 9 May 2009 – 14 February 2018, is accused of enabling the plunder of state coffers during his time in office.
“This kind of recalcitrance and defiance is unlawful and will be punished,” Khampepe said.
“I am left with no option but to commit Mr Zuma to imprisonment, with the hope that doing so sends an unequivocal message… the rule of law and the administration of justice prevails.”
“The majority judgement orders an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment for a period (of 15 months),” she declared, ordering Zuma to hand himself over within five days.
Zuma is separately facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand, then the equivalent of nearly $5 billion.
At the time of the purchase, Zuma was President Thabo Mbeki’s deputy. Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s President between 16 June 1999 – 24 September 2008. Late Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s president between 10 May 1994 – 16 June 1999.
Jabob Zuma is accused of collecting bribes totaling four million rand from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.