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A Victory for Rule of Law in South Africa

Sentencing of Former President Sends Clear Message That No One Is Above the Law

Former South Africa President, Jacob Zuma sits in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on November 30, 2018, charged with fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering.  © 2018 Rogan Ward/Pool Photo via AP

Just before midnight last night, South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, reported to a prison facility in his home province KwaZulu Natal to comply with an incarceration order handed down by the Constitutional Court on June 29. The court had found him guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment. This is the first time a former president has been jailed in South Africa.

Earlier this year, the Constitutional Court had ordered Zuma to appear before a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture, corruption, and fraud in the public sector, and to file affidavits and answer questions put to him. Zuma refused to comply. In its judgment addressing Zuma’s defiance of the court’s previous order, the court said Zuma’s “scurrilous and unfounded attacks on the judiciary and its members were intolerable and could not be met with impunity.”

In response to the developments, South Africa’s governing ANC party, which Zuma had led for years, expressed, “unequivocal commitment to and defence of the Constitution, in particular the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary, amongst the founding principles and values of the Republic.”

When faced with the initial order, Zuma had written a letter to the chief justice accusing the commission of victimizing him. Zuma later issued another statement criticizing the judiciary and saying he would neither obey the court order nor cooperate with the commission.

Zuma’s son, Edward Zuma, had vowed there would be bloodshed should his father be arrested. With Zuma supporters threatening to form a human shield and blocking the main gate leading into his homestead with vehicles in an effort to prevent his arrest, concerns grew that there could be violence. After a tense standoff throughout the night Zuma’s foundation, the JGZuma Foundation, finally announced via Twitter “that President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a Correctional Services Facility in KZN [KwaZulu Natal].”

Holding Zuma accountable has been celebrated as a victory for the rule of law and confirmation of South Africa’s robust democracy and independent judiciary. His jailing sends a clear message that no one is above the law.

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