South Africa’s top court has ruled that former President Jacob Zuma had failed in his bid to have his 15-month jail sentence for failing to attend a corruption inquiry overturned.
The sentence was handed down in June after Zuma failed to testify at an inquiry probing corruption during his nine-year rule, seen as a test of post-apartheid South Africa’s ability to enforce the rule of law, particularly against powerful politicians.
Zuma, recuperating in hospital after undergoing surgery for an undisclosed illness, asked the court in July to revoke its sentence for contempt arguing it was excessive, and that jail would endanger his health and life.
In a majority decision on Friday, the Constitutional Court rejected his arguments.
“The application for rescission is dismissed,” Justice Sisi Khampepe said as she read the majority decision, which included an order for Zuma to pay costs.
It was the latest legal setback for the 79-year-old anti-apartheid veteran from the ruling African National Congress, whose presidency between 2009 and 2018 was marred by widespread allegations of corruption and malfeasance. He denies wrongdoing.
“Obviously the foundation is disappointed with this judgement,” Mzwanele Manyi, spokesman for the JG Zuma Foundation, said in response.
Zuma’s jailing on July 7, after handing himself over to police at the last minute, led to violent riots, looting, and vandalism in South Africa, killing more than 300 people and costing businesses billions of South African rand.
His successor Cyril Ramaphosa described the unrest as an orchestrated attempt to destabilise the country and pledged to crack down on alleged instigators.
The violence was also fuelled by simmering frustration among largely Black communities still living in squalid conditions long after the ANC swept to power in South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.
A former senior intelligence operative with the ANC’s then banned military wing uMkhonto we Sizwe before rising to the highest office, Zuma says he is the victim of a political witchhunt and that acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is biased.
Zondo served as chairman of the graft inquiry.
The department of correctional services placed Zuma on medical parole earlier this month after surgery following his hospitalisation in August. That decision is being challenged by the opposition Democratic Alliance.
Zuma faces 16 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and equipment from five European arms firms when he was deputy president.
He is accused of taking bribes from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales, which has been charged with corruption and money laundering.