Former South African President Jacob Zuma
appeared to have won a reprieve from imprisonment on contempt of court charges on Saturday, after the country's highest court agreed to hear his challenge
to a 15-month prison sentence handed down last week.
After failing to appear before a corruption investigation
earlier this year, the supreme court
the 79-year-old if he did not surrender to authorities by Sunday.
After nine years in power, Zuma was deposed as president in 2018 amid multiple graft scandals, and he has consistently refused to cooperate with judges
investigating wrongdoing during his reign.
In recent days, the veteran
politician has attempted to rally political support, particularly in his stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal province, where he appeared briefly in public on Saturday, but his efforts to spark broader protests
against his impending arrest have so far failed.
A small crowd gathered outside Zuma's homestead of Nkandla, including about two dozen women
who claimed to have driven more than 300 kilometers overnight from the neighboring Eastern Cape province.
“We support Zuma and want to know what will happen to him, which is why we are here,” Cecilia Nongce, 43, said as she wrapped herself in a traditional Nguni blue-and-red blanket to keep warm.
“We love Nxamalala,” she said in Zulu, referring to Zuma by his traditional clan name, and adding that she hoped he would come out and speak to them.
Other supporters arrived in two minibuses, waving ANC flags and wearing white T-shirts with the inscription 'wenzeni uZuma,' Zulu for "What has Zuma done?"
South African analysts were taken aback by the supreme court's decision to hear the former president's challenge to its own decision.
“If Zuma is imprisoned, we can say we have the rule of law
in South Africa; if he isn’t, we don’t. There is no new evidence, so this means the system is being bent to fit the politics
, and people
everywhere will be very disappointed,” said Ralph Mathekga, an author and political commentator.
The South African Supreme Court noted in its decision last week that the former president had "repeatedly stated that he would rather be imprisoned than cooperate" with the corruption investigation.
Zuma then filed a 30-page statement in which he accused judges of “exasperation” and asked the Supreme Court to “reassess whether it has acted within the constitution”: https://www.scribd.com/document/513967636/Jacob-Zuma-Affidavit
would be jeopardized in prison, according to the statement, because he would not be able to receive the care he requires and might catch Covid-19
The contempt of court charges stemmed from Zuma's repeated failure to appear in February before South Africa's deputy chief justice, Raymond Zondo, in charge of the corruption investigation.
Despite the fact that scores of witnesses have described widespread corruption and mismanagement during Zuma's tenure
, the former president has only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout
days later, and he denies all wrongdoing.
In February, Zondo announced that he would seek a constitutional court
order compelling Zuma to testify or go to prison because “the message... sent out is that people can ignore or disregard summons and orders of courts with impunity...[and] there will be very little that will remain of our democracy
Zuma has accused Zondo of bias, claiming that the allegations leveled against him were crafted by a variety
, including foreign intelligence agencies.
The majority of the alleged corruption being investigated by the commission
involves three brothers from a wealthy Indian business family
, the Guptas, who allegedly won lucrative government contracts and were even able to choose cabinet ministers.
The South African media
has largely backed the Constitutional Court.
“His ardent supporters extol his contribution to....the successful transition to democracy; they are entirely correct; Zuma was a patriot – and as a patriot, he should submit himself to the laws and institutions of this country,” according to the Independent online news
“If the constitutional [supreme] court is dithering, what does it say about our institutions?” Mathekga asked.
Cyril Ramaphosa, a labor
activist turned wealthy tycoon who took over as South Africa's president after a bitter internal ANC battle
and public outrage over allegations of mismanagement and systemic corruption, has taken steps to stamp out corruption.
Anger has been fueled by a series of scandals involving large sums of money
obtained fraudulently through government contracts for emergency supplies to combat the Covid-19 pandemic
and grants to help the most vulnerable.
New Covid restrictions have been implemented in the last few days in an attempt to stem a sharp increase in cases caused by the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant
, weak countermeasures, and public fatigue with existing restrictions.
Zuma is also facing 16 counts of fraud, graft, and racketeering in connection with an arms deal
in 1999, to which he has pleaded not guilty.