South African police have tried to hold back the arrest of Jacob Zuma until the former president exhausted his legal challenges against his prison sentence.
A letter to South Africa’s constitutional court from the police minister and police commissioner has fueled concerns that the ruling African National Congress is reluctant to imprison its former leader. Protests over his planned arrest erupted in his home state over the weekend.
Last week the constitutional court ruled that Zuma should go to jail for challenging an order to participate in an investigation into corruption. Civil society activists hailed the decision as a moment for South African democracy and a confirmation of the independence of the judiciary.
Zuma, whose nine-year presidency has been ousted over allegations of corruption and economic stagnation, was unable to postpone it until Sunday’s court deadline. The constitutional court has ruled that police must take Zuma into custody by the end of Wednesday.
But the 79-year-old, who denies all wrongdoing and says the charges are politically motivated, has launched two legal challenges against the decision, one in a lower court and one to overturn the original order, saying that ” he sent me to prison during the height of a pandemic at my age is the same as sentencing me to death ”. The challenge will be heard on July 12.
On Monday, the minister and the national commissioner overseeing the South African police wrote to the court. The police “will, out of respect for the disputes that arise, take other actions that are planned to be taken … pending the end of the litigation,” or direction from the court, the letter said.
The police minister appears to have returned Tuesday and said she would proceed with the arrest if the court did not direct her otherwise. “We have instructed the court to give direction,” police minister Bheki Cele told South African television Newzroom Afrika on Tuesday. “If they don’t give us the direction, we have a direction that ends at 12 noon on Wednesday.”
Legal analysts said Zuma’s legal offer was unlikely to succeed and also that there was no reason in law for the police not to arrest him before the challenges were exhausted.
The court order to the police is already clear, and Zuma’s legal challenges were “completely irrelevant” to this obligation, said Dan Mafora, a research officer for the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, a dog of legal guard.
“The risk was always that there was no political will to carry out the order,” Mafora said. “It’s obviously harmful for the ANC government to have to arrest a former president…. They’re trying to spend the money until they can.”
The party was sparked by a show of force by Zuma’s allies outside their rural home in KwaZulu-Natal over the weekend. Members have challenged an official ban on meetings under South Africa’s blockchain rules to give the party colors and stay with the police in Nkandla.
The ANC was divided over Zuma’s fate on Tuesday. In a statement, the party condemned “counter-revolutionary appeals to violence and even civil war” at Zuma’s home and criticized Zuma’s attacks on the judiciary.
“Any attempt to respond to legal and judicial questions through threats and acts of violence, from any neighborhood, is heinous,” the party said.
But the ANC also supported the challenge of Zuma’s order. Jessie Duarte, the party’s deputy general secretary, said in a press briefing that the former president was “exploring every legal avenue that is available to remove or reduce the custodial sentence.”
“We hope that Comrade Zuma’s court application will be successful,” Duarte added.