On Tuesday, in a far-reaching move, the Constitutional Court of South Africa, said that the former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma was guilty of contempt of court. He was sentenced to a 15-month prison term. This landmark judgement by the highest court in the nation was pronounced after he refused to present himself at an anti-corruption commission to answer questions about his alleged involvement in corruption during his term.
The court gave him five days to report at a police station in his native town of Nkandla or in Johannesburg.
In the scathing judgement Justice Sisi Khampepe said that no person “is above the law.” The judge also added that an act of defiance in respect of a direct judicial order had the potential to precipitate a constitutional crisis.
The judgement said that if litigants were allowed to decide which orders they wished to obey and which orders they wished to ignore, then the South African Constitution was not worth the paper it was written on.
The 79-year-old former President will be the first South African leader to be imprisoned. Although he was an associate of Nelson Mandela, his presidential term was rife with alleged corruption incidents. There have been hundreds of schemes that show that payments had to be made for government contracts.
There are also alleged corruption charges during his tenure as deputy president in 1999. He had been forced to step down in 2018, although he still commands a lot of support at the grassroots level.
The court made scathing comments about Zuma’s refusal to appear before the commission. The former president has repeatedly denied corruption charges that were leveled on him. He was the president of the country from 2009 to 2018.
The reformist faction of the African National Congress (ANC), which is now led by Ramaphosa, will privately be happy with the court’s decision according to experts. It has been looking for accountability among its leaders and this ruling would force other leaders to step down and face similar charges.
Photo Linh Do