(AP) — Former South African President Jacob Zuma
has been found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 15 months in prison
for failing to appear before an inquiry into widespread allegations of corruption
during his tenure
from 2009 to 2018.
Zuma was not in court on Tuesday for the ruling, and he has been ordered to turn himself in to a police
station in his hometown of Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal province, or in Johannesburg within five days.
If Zuma does not surrender within five days, South Africa's police minister and commissioner have been ordered to arrest
him within three days.
A former president has been sentenced to prison for the first time in South African history
In response to the sentence, opposition politician Herman Mashaba said, “Finally, Zuma will find himself where he belongs - behind bars.”
“This is indeed a victory for all South Africans who have grown tired of those who have looted our country with impunity,” Mashaba, former mayor
of Johannesburg and leader of the ActionSA party, said in a statement. “The judgment is also a victory for the rule of law
in South Africa, once again serving to highlight the independence of our judiciary, which is a central pillar of our democracy
,” Mashaba said.
The Constitutional Court
of South Africa ruled that Zuma defied the country's highest court by refusing to cooperate with the commission of inquiry, which is chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.
“The Constitutional Court holds that there can be no doubt
that Mr. Zuma is in contempt of court. Mr. Zuma was served with the order, and it is impossible to conclude anything other than that he was unequivocally aware of what it required of him,” acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe said.
She went on to say that when deciding on Zuma's sentence, the court found it impossible to believe he would obey any other order.
“Mr. Zuma has repeatedly stated that he would rather be imprisoned than cooperate with the commission or obey the order,” Khampepe said.
Zuma has previously stated his refusal to appear before the commission, which has so far heard evidence directly implicating Zuma in wrongdoing.
Zuma claimed in a previous 21-page letter to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, which the court called “scandalous,” that he was ready to be imprisoned.
Zuma claimed in a letter made public that the commission's chairman, Zondo, was biased against him and that the evidence presented against him was politically motivated.
Among the witnesses who have accused Zuma of corruption are former Cabinet ministers, high-ranking government officials, and executives of state-owned enterprises.
Several witnesses have testified that President Zuma allowed members of the divisive Gupta family
to influence Cabinet minister appointments and lucrative contracts at state-owned enterprises.
Zuma is also facing additional legal difficulties because he is on trial
charges related to South Africa's 1999 arms procurement deal
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorneys have asked the lead prosecutor in his case to resign due to alleged bias against Zuma.