S. Africa’s top court agrees to hear Zuma challenge to jail term

South Africa’s top court agrees to hear former president Jacob Zuma’s challenge against his 15-month sentence on contempt charges.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma says he is the victim of a political witch hunt [File: Reuters]

South Africa’s constitutional court has agreed to hear former President Jacob Zuma’s challenge to rescind an order sentencing him to jail for 15 months on contempt charges.

The constitutional court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in jail on Tuesday for failing to appear at the corruption inquiry led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in February.

The former president was given until the end of Sunday to hand himself in, after which police would be obliged to arrest him. But the court agreed on Saturday to hear his application on July 12.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Fahmida Miller, reporting from Nkandla, South Africa, said that instead of “handing himself over by tomorrow or face arrest in the coming days … Jacob Zuma will return or at least show up for the first time at the Constitutional Court to defend himself.”

Miller said that prior to the sentence the leader had different opportunities to voice his concerns.

“He ignored [the opportunities],” Miller said. “And now it seems just a day before he is supposed to hand himself over he is willing to talk to the Constitutional Court,” she added.

Zuma has called the sentence a “political statement of exemplary punishment”. He has maintained he is the victim of a political witch hunt and that Zondo is biased against him.

In his application to annul the decision submitted on Friday, Zuma said going to jail “would put him at the highest risk of death” from the pandemic because he is nearly 80 and has a medical condition.

Thousands of his supporters, mainly members of the African National Congress’s Umkhonto Wesizwe military wing, have been camped outside his home in Kwa-Zulu Natal province for weeks.

On Saturday, hundreds of them marched alongside Zuma in his hometown of Nkandla.

“They can give Zuma 15 months … or 100 months. He’s not going to serve even one day or one minute of that,” his son Edward Zuma told the news agency Reuters at the gathering. “They would have to kill me before they put their hands on him.”

Zuma, who did not speak to his supporters but is expected to address them on Sunday, wore a black and gold tropical shirt as he walked through the crowd, but no mask. He was guarded by men dressed as traditional warriors from his Zulu nation, wearing leopard skins and holding spears with oval ox-hide shields.

Tension has been bubbling this week as members of the Umkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) threatened that the country would be destabilised if the former leader was apprehended, promising to form a human shield around Zuma.

Fearing a showdown, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it had postponed a scheduled meeting of its top National Executive Committee this weekend.

Numerous convoys of provincial local leaders, including the ANC secretary in KwaZulu Natal Mdumiseni Ntuli and provincial premier Sihle Zikalala were spotted at the homestead.

Zuma ally Carl Niehaus told AFP that the former president was in his homestead meeting spiritual leaders on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies