The court hearing of former African leader Zuma began after the looting, set on fire by Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Stick protesters march through the streets as violence after the imprisonment of former South African President Jacob Zuma broke out in the country’s main economic center in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 11, 2021. REUTERS / Sumaya Hisham

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s top court has begun hearing a challenge from former President Jacob Zuma against a 15-month prison sentence Monday as angry supporters looted businesses and set fire to buildings in protest .

Zuma has been convicted of challenging a constitutional court order to testify in an investigation investigating high-level corruption during his nine years in office until 2018.

The decision to imprison him is the result of legal proceedings seen as proof of South Africa’s post-apartheid ability to enforce the rule of law, even against powerful politicians.

In the virtual hearing, Zuma’s lawyer asked the court to overturn his imprisonment, invoking a rule that judges can be reconsidered if made in the absence of the person concerned or containing a patent error.

Legal experts say Zuma’s chances of success are slim.

The sacking was followed by a weekend of riots by protesters, mostly concentrated in Zuma’s native province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), with some scattering in Johannesburg’s main commercial city.

Television channels showed footage Monday of a flame at a shopping center in Pietermaritzburg, in KZN. The channel said the highway leading to the city has been closed to prevent further violence.

A police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Zuma’s main supporters, representing his position, say he is the victim of a hunt for political witches orchestrated by the allies of his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said on Sunday there was no justification for the violence and that they are stepping up efforts to rebuild the economy, damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zuma’s imprisonment marks a significant fall for an important figure in the ruling party’s liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC). He was once imprisoned by the governments of South Africa’s white minorities for their efforts to make all citizens equal before the law.

The corruption investigation with which Zuma refused to cooperate examines the allegations that had allowed three Indian-born businessmen, Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, to plunder state resources and influence government policy. He and the Gupta brothers, who escaped after their hunt and are believed to be living in Dubai, refuse to hurt him.

Zuma also faces a corruption case involving a $ 2 billion arms deal in 1999 when he was vice president. He denies the allegations in this case.

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