Former South African President Jacob Zuma has been remanded in custody to begin a prison sentence for contempt of the country’s highest court, ending an affair that has challenged the rule of law in Africa’s most industrialized nation.
Zuma was taken to prison late Wednesday with just minutes before midnight before arrest to arrest him, the South African police minister said.
Constitutional Court of South Africa sentenced Zuma to 15 months last week for challenging his order to participate in a judicial investigation investigating allegations that he aided in systematic corruption during his presidency, which ended in 2018.
The verdict was hailed as a victory for South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution but has become a test for the status of the rule of law under the African National Congress government after Zuma continued to ignore judges and allies threatened with violent resistance to order.
Zuma missed a deadline on Sunday to return him, forcing police to follow a court order to arrest him at the end of Wednesday, despite last-minute legal offers from Zuma to seek a reconsideration.
The former president’s foundation said Wednesday that it “has decided to respect the incarceration order” and was “on its way to being sent to a correctional services facility” in KwaZulu-Natal, its native province.
During his nine years in power, Zuma has witnessed the decline of major institutions and economic stagnation, culminating in the so-called “state capture” scandal of claims he has helped plunder public resources. Zuma denies any wrongdoing.
Zuma’s incarceration is a turning point for the ANC and for Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s successor as leader and party president, who is committed to rebuilding state institutions.
Next week the constitutional court will hear an offer from Zuma to overturn his sentence, while the trial is scheduled for Friday for a separate attempt to ban the order in a lower court.
The 79-year-old had he breathed defiance at last. He also said Sunday that “sending me to prison during the time of a pandemic at my age is the same as sentencing me to death,” after a show of force in his rural home.
But Wednesday these supporters had dwindled, and when South African television stations showed a motorcade swept out of the house just before midnight, no one took up arms.