South African ex-president Jacob Zuma will on Monday ask the nation’s top court to let him out of jail by rescinding its 15-month sentence for snubbing anti-graft investigators.
The Constitutional Court on June 29 slapped Zuma with the prison stretch for refusing to appear before a probe into the corruption that mired his nine years in power.
Zuma is seeking to have that ruling set aside on the grounds that it was made in his absence.
Should the bid fail, Zuma’s team will seek to convince the judges that jail time is not the appropriate punishment for this instance of contempt, due to reasons including the implications for Zuma’s health, according to an information handout for media from the court on Saturday.
Zuma, 79, is also asking to be released from the Estcourt prison in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province on the grounds of his age and ailing health, adding that the ongoing pandemic means he is not a flight risk.
The man once dubbed the “Teflon president”, spent his first night in jail on Thursday after handing himself in to authorities following hours of drama and suspense.
His lawyers had also petitioned the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal to stave off imprisonment. But on Friday it rejected the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction over the matter and Zuma’s claims about his health were “not supported by any evidence.”
The former president testified to the commission once in July 2019, but then swiftly withdrew his cooperation, saying he was offended by being treated as an “accused” and not as a witness.
He returned in November 2020, without uttering a word, and missed several subsequent appointments by evading his summonses on various grounds, including medical reasons, lack of funds and his request to have the chairman of the commission, then-deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, recuse himself.
If Zuma is to serve the full term, he could still see himself back home long before year-end as he would be eligible for parole in less than four months.
Meanwhile, sporadic violence has erupted in the country, with dozens arrested after looting in KwaZulu-Natal and in the economic capital Johannesburg.