South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has been handed a 15-month jail term for contempt, has made another legal attempt to dodge incarceration, going to court to seek the suspension of an arrest order.
By Susan Njanji and Tendai Dube
Johannesburg – South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has been handed a 15-month jail term for contempt, made another legal attempt on Tuesday to dodge incarceration going to court to seek the suspension of an arrest order.
His latest bid in the Pietermaritzburg High Court came as police said they will not make any move to arrest him until he has fully exhausted his legal battle against the sentence.
Zuma has mounted a two-pronged last-ditch attempt to avoid jail after the Constitutional Court, the country’s top judicial authority, slapped him with the sentence last week.
He was told to turn himself in by midnight on Sunday, failing which police would be instructed to arrest him within the following three days.
On Friday, Zuma, 79, rushed to court seeking to halt the execution of the arrest order.
His lawyer Dali Mpofu told the Pietermaritzburg High Court, as it started sitting, that he was “effectively” seeking to interdict the execution of the arrest warrant for a man who turns 80 on his next birthday and whose “health condition is uncontestably precarious”, is not a flight risk and is in the care and security of the state.
‘Volatile security situation’
Before the hearing even started, lawyers for the police had written to Constitutional Court saying they will pause on the order to arrest Zuma given the “unique situation presented by the developments and the legal matrix involved.”
Mpofu commended the police for considering “the aggravated situation in the country around this matter,” pointing to the “volatile security situation that may be posed by this matter”.
The hearing continues Tuesday.
Zuma has separately pleaded with the Constitutional Court to reconsider and rescind its jail order. That challenge will be heard on July 12
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He was ordered to be jailed for disobeying a court order to appear before a commission probing massive state corruption under his nine-year tenure.
His ruling African National Congress (ANC) has vowed not to interfere in Zuma’s attempt to evade jail because “we believe that the judiciary must be left to make its own decisions”.
“The interests of an individual cannot take precedence over or jeopardise the interests of our democracy or of the nation,” said the party’s deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte following a special meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee held on Monday.
“We believe that the judiciary must be left to make its own decisions,” she said.
‘No one wants jail
In a show of solidarity, hundreds of mask-less supporters have descended on Zuma’s rural home in Nkandla, in southeastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province, in blatant violation of Covid-19 restrictions that have banned gatherings.
On Sunday Zuma defiantly declared he was prepared to go prison, even though “sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death.”
A former fighter against white-minority government in South Africa who spent 10 years in prison on Robben Island, Zuma has compared the country’s’ judiciary to “apartheid-type rule”.
“I am facing a long detention without trial,” he said.
The Zuma case has fuelled tensions within the ruling party, where the former president still commands much support among the grass roots.
The ANC on Monday condemned the crowds gathering in Nkandla as a “deliberate defiance of the Covid-19 restrictions”, but said it understood why Zuma was exploring every possible channel.
“No one wants to go to jail… I think that (ex-) president Zuma is exploring every legal avenue that is available to reduce or to remove the custodial sentence that has been put on him,” said Duarte.
“We would hope that comrade Zuma’s court application will be successful,” she added.
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