Jacob Zuma becomes SA's first democratic president to be arrested

Jacob Zuma is also the first president of South Africa ever to be jailed.

The crowd who gathered to support former President Jacob Zuma is seen reflected in his glasses as he waits to speak after appearing on corruption charges at the Durban High Court on 6 April 2018. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee/Eyewitness News.

DURBAN - It's taken months of legal wrangling and some bold threats - but former President Jacob Zuma is finally behind bars. He is now a resident of the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal.

After a number of dramatic days leading up to his imprisonment, Zuma's speeding convoy left his Nkandla homestead before the midnight deadline set by the Constitutional Court. He is the first president of democratic South Africa to be arrested, and the first president of South Africa ever to be jailed.

Zuma was taken in by police to begin his sentence. The Jacob Zuma Foundation sent confirmation of this at 11:47 pm, saying that he “decided to comply with the incarceration order” and that a full statement would be issued in due time. A motorcade was seen leaving his home at 11:15 pm on Wednesday night.

There were no human shields and no speeches from the man at the centre of it all. But most importantly, no bloodshed, as many of Zuma’s supporters earlier threatened.

A handful of people started trickling towards his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, in the early afternoon but their actions hardly made a dent.

Led by the former president’s son, Edward, the small but enthusiastic crowd reaffirmed their support for Zuma. Several times, they prevented police vans from entering Zuma’s compound and later they blocked an ambulance.

Edward also repeated that any attempt to arrest his father would be met with resistance.

“I’ve given my life… police would have to kill me first,” he said.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Zuma Snr was whisked away from his home in a convoy at a 11:15 pm after police placed him under arrest.

For a moment it was confusing for Zuma’s supporters and Edward himself, who were still convinced the former president was safe and sound inside his compound. Upon realising what happened, the dejected crowd dispersed after camping out for hours.

Zuma - who repeatedly said he would rather go to jail than appear before the state capture commission - fought until the last hour to stay out of prison. He was meant to hand himself over to police on Sunday 4 June, failing which police had three days to arrest him, making the final deadline midnight on Wednesday.

The former president was sentenced to 15 months in jail by the apex court for contempt after refusing to testify at the state capture commission of inquiry that he set up.

His lawyers also went back to Constitutional Court justices late on Wednesday afternoon, asking for a reprieve in the face of pending arrest.

The former president also launched an application on Tuesday at the Pietermaritzburg High Court to stay his arrest.

A decision on that challenge in the High Court is expected on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Zuma’s other vocal and sturdy supporter, his daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, posted this message on Twitter: “Just spoke to President Jacob Zuma en route and he is still in high spirits. He said that he hopes they still have his same overalls from Robben Island, and we laughed hard that at least he won’t struggle with Afrikaans this time round. We salute dad! Amandla!”


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On Sunday night, Zuma gave a public address live from his Nkandla home, saying the move by the Constitutional Court essentially sentenced him without a trial, and sending him to jail was tantamount to a death sentence.

"The death sentence was declared unconstitutional in South Africa in 1995. As a result of my sacrificed and those of millions of South Africans," he said. "Sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic at my age is the same as sentencing me to death."

READ: Jacob Zuma's address after ConCourt ruling against him

Earlier on Sunday, Zuma addressed his supporters who gathered outside his house, telling them that he was not aware of any transgressions by him, despite the ruling.

He also accused Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who heads the state capture inquiry, of being biased against him.

"I made a submission to Judge Zondo, pointing out exact details to support my contention that he is not neutral. He also made his own submission to disprove my contention and subsequently ruled that his own submission is victorious. This then meant that I was now forced to appear before somebody I have accused of bias and conflict of interest," Zuma said.

He stated that "had Judge Zondo simply recused himself and allowed my submission to be made to somebody neutral, the people of South Africa would have heard my version as regards all the unsubstantiated allegations against me".

During his address, he also likened the COVID-19 lockdown to what happened during apartheid.

"We have a level four lockdown, with all hallmarks of a state of emergency, and the curfews of the 1980s. The only difference is that we only use different levels, like contempt of court instead of detention without trial. But the substance is exactly the same. Being jailed without a trial is no different to the apartheid detention without trial."

On Wednesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that if there was no clarity from the apex court on whether officers should wait for the outcome of Zuma's other court applications, the former president would be taken into custody by the deadline of midnight.

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