Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma on Thursday began a 15-month sentence for contempt of court, becoming post-apartheid South Africa’s first president to be jailed after a drama that campaigners said ended in a victory for rule of law.
Zuma, 79, reported to prison early Thursday after mounting a last-ditch legal bid and stoking defiance among radical supporters who had rallied at his rural home.
His battle transfixed the country, placing a spotlight on the issue of impunity and tensions within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
South Africa’s top court on June 29 whacked Zuma with a 15-month term for refusing an order to appear before a probe into the corruption that entangled his nine years in power.
As police warned he faced arrest from midnight Wednesday, Zuma handed himself in to a jail in the rural town of Estcourt in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Many South Africans hailed his incarceration as a watershed moment.
Former corruption buster and ex-ombudswoman Thuli Madonsela hailed it as a “glorious day, in that it says that the rule of law prevails.”
The opposition Democratic Alliance said, “The law cannot be mocked and challenged with impunity. If the leader can go to prison, then so can anyone.”
But, it cautioned, the contempt sentence did not address the wider corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering that proliferated under Zuma.
The episode provided what is likely to be a crushing end to an extraordinary but tarnished career.
Born into poverty, Zuma started out as an uneducated herdboy who joined the ANC, becoming its intelligence chief in its struggle against the apartheid regime.
In 2009, he became democratic South Africa’s third president, but it proved to be a tenure darkened by divisions and the stench of corruption.
In 2018, Zuma was forced out by the ANC and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.