South Africa’s highest court dismisses former President Jacob Zuma’s bid to overturn jail sentence

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South Africa’s top court has dismissed a bid by former president Jacob Zuma (pictured) to overturn his 15-month jail sentence (EPA)
South Africa’s top court has dismissed a bid by former president Jacob Zuma (pictured) to overturn his 15-month jail sentence (EPA)

South Africa’s top court has dismissed a bid by former president Jacob Zuma to overturn his 15-month jail sentence for failing to attend a corruption inquiry.

Mr Zuma, who is currently recuperating in hospital after undergoing surgery for an unknown illness, had asked the court in July to revoke a sentence for contempt of court, arguing that imprisonment would endanger his health and life.

The former president received the sentence in June after failing to testify at an inquiry investigating corruption during his 9-year rule - seen as a key test of the strength of post-apartheid South Africa’s democratic institutions and its ability to enforce the rule of law.

In a majority decision of 7-2 judges on Friday, the Constitutional Court rejected his arguments that a jail sentence was excessive and would put his health at risk.

“The application for rescission is dismissed,” Justice Sisi Khampepe said as she read the majority decision, which included an order for Zuma to pay costs.

“To his peril, Mr. Zuma declined to participate in the contempt proceedings and disdainfully dismissed further opportunity when invited to do so.

“The hands of the Constitutional Court are bound and Mr Zuma himself bound them.”

Mr Zuma, 79, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. He was imprisoned in July but granted medical parole for an undisclosed illness on September 6, despite claims from opposition parties that procedure wasn’t followed in the run-up to his release.

His jailing on July 7 triggered some of the worst rioting and looting in South Africa in decades. More than 300 people were killed and thousands of businesses and factories pillaged and razed.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Mr Zuma as President in 2018, branded the rioting a “failed insurrection”. The chaotic scenes raised concerns that Mr Zuma might be spared jail to appease his supporters.

Mr Zuma, who resigned four years ago amid corruption allegations, still has considerable support in parts of South Africa and within the ruling Africa National Congress (ANC) party. His time in office, from 2009 to 2018, was marred by a string of scandals and mismanagement.

“Obviously the foundation is disappointed with this judgement,” Mzwanele Manyi, spokesman for the JG Zuma Foundation, said in response to the ruling on Friday.

Mr Zuma also faces corruption charges in a separate case, where he is accused of taking bribes in connection with South Africa’s £2.9 million arms deal in 1999 with French manufacturer Thales. The trial, which began in May, is due to resume next week.

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