South African court orders Zuma back to jail

Jacob Zuma

South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, who has officially finished serving a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court, must return to prison after his conditional release last year on health grounds was contrary to the law, an appeals court ruled Monday.

The 80-year-old former head of state was convicted in June 2021 for stubbornly refusing to testify before a commission investigating corruption under his presidency (2009-2018).

His imprisonment the following month triggered an unprecedented wave of violence and looting, in a tense socio-economic context, leaving 350 dead. Two months later, he was released for health reasons and placed under judicial supervision.

The Supreme Court of Appeal “considers that Mr Zuma’s conditional release on medical grounds was contrary to the law”, in a decision of which AFP has obtained a copy.

The head of the prison service had granted parole against the advice of the institution’s medical committee. The medical experts had considered that Mr Zuma “does not meet the required conditions”.

The state of health of Jacob Zuma remains largely opaque. According to multiple medical reports cited in the court of appeal’s decision, he suffers from blood pressure problems, high blood sugar levels and severe colon damage.

The head of the prison service was not justified in going against the opinion of the medical panel, the appeal court said. As a result, “Mr Zuma, by law, has not finished serving his sentence. He must return to the Escourt Correctional Centre” (KwaZulu-Natal, south-east).

The decision comes after prison authorities announced last month that Zuma, who has appeared in public several times, dancing and singing to his supporters, would be finishing his sentence.

He is still seen, despite the scandals, as current president Cyril Ramaphosa’s biggest political rival. With less than a month to go before the conference of the ruling ANC party, a crucial event for Mr Ramaphosa’s future as head of the country, Jacob Zuma has repeatedly tried to destabilise him by questioning his probity.

The ANC meets on 16 December to decide whether or not to invest Mr Ramaphosa for a second term in 2024. Elected on a promise to stamp out corruption, he has been hampered

by a scandal surrounding mysterious bundles of cash discovered during a break-in at one of his properties.