former south african president jacob zuma sentenced to 15 months in prison

Former South African president Jacob Zuma>

Former South African president Jacob Zuma

by Beatrice Ambasa June 29, 2021

Former South African president Jacob Zuma has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after failing to appear before a corruption inquiry earlier this year.

Zuma, 79, who was the president for nearly nine years until 2018, was not present to hear the South African constitutional court deliver its ruling and sentence. The judge ordered the former president to hand himself in within five days.

On Tuesday, Judge Sisi Khampepe said: "The constitutional court can do nothing but conclude that Mr. Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court."

She added: "This kind of recalcitrance and defiance is unlawful and will be punished. 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 judgment orders an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment for a period [of 15 months]."

Zuma failed to appear at the corruption inquiry led by the deputy chief justice, Raymond Zondo, in February. 

The inquiry is examining allegations of high-level graft during Zuma's period in power. The veteran politician denies wrongdoing and has claimed Zondo is conducting a personal vendetta.

Zuma is separately facing 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30bn rands, then the equivalent of nearly $5bn. At the time of the purchase, Zuma was president Thabo Mbeki's deputy.

The corruption inquiry 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).

But he testified only once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout days later. He ignored several invitations to reappear, citing medical reasons and preparations for another corruption trial.

He presented himself again briefly in November but left before questioning.

At a court hearing last month, he entered a plea of not guilty and told the court the prosecution was politically motivated, accusing government lawyers of working "not to find the truth but to bolster a narrative of a corrupt political leader".