Jacob Zuma - OkayAfrica

Former South African President and former president of the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) Jacob Zuma listens to local resident Sandile Ngcobo during a door to door campaign visit in Shakaskraal township, on April 16, 2019. - Even if Zuma is not candidate, he is campagning for ANC party. South Africans will go to the polls for national elections on May 8, 2019.

Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images.

Explained: Keeping Up With Jacob Zuma

If you're unsure about what's happening with South Africa's former President Jacob Zuma and his impending arrest, we've got you covered with this brief explainer.

The past week has been an unprecedented one in South Africa both legally and politically. Last week Thursday, former President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison by the Constitutional Court's Justice Sisi Khampepe after being found in contempt of court. The sentencing comes after Zuma failed to appear before the courts following his refusal to participate in the ongoing Zondo Commission—a state-sponsored inquiry into allegations of corruption during his 9-year tenure. The judgement has admittedly set a legal precedent that asserts that even former presidents are not above the law in South Africa. While Zuma was given five days to hand himself over to the police, a series of events has since unfolded and resulted in South Africans wondering what exactly will happen now.

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The legal cat-and-mouse that has continued since several hundred charges of corruption were levelled against Zuma, had South Africans quite skeptical that he'd finally see the inside of a prison cell this time around. Following the Constitutional Court's ruling, Zuma's legal team, comprising Advocate Dali Mpofu,filed an appeal at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, to stay the recent judgment and prevent him from being arrested. That, however, has offset another debate with legal experts explaining that the High Court has no jurisdiction to overturn a ruling made by the highest court in the country. The matter is set to be heard tomorrow.

More controversially, Zuma also approached the Constitutional Court and filed to rescind their judgement citing that a prison term at his age is a "death sentence". However, Professor Pierre de Vos, a Constitutional Law expert, rebuts Zuma's claims on his platform, Constitutionally Speaking. De Vos writes that, "Mr Zuma's application is an elaborate exercise in gaslighting, and contains numerous false and unsubstantiated claims." He also explains how, after amendments were made to the law back in 2013, rescission applications no longer mean that a judgement is "automatically suspended". This is what Zuma has been hoping—that his rescission appeal will buy him enough time (a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card) until the High Court hears his appeal on July 12. And while Zuma claims that the judgement was made on "erroneous" grounds, de Vos again debunks that sentiment saying: "In the case of Mr Zuma, those parts of his rescission application arguing that a rescission is warranted because the Constitutional Court failed to take into account certain facts which might have provided a valid defence to the finding of contempt, are not going to fly."


A popular figure among ANC supporters and the Zulu nation, Zuma had hundreds of people gathering at his Nkandla homestead to show their solidarity for him. Many supporters spoke to the press that was present at the march and professed how they were literally prepared to "die for Zuma". Although the police were deployed to Nkandla to arrest the scores of people who were flouting COVID-19 regulations, they reportedly refrained from making arrests to "avoid bloodshed", News24 reports. Interestingly enough, very few people were wearing masks or practising social distancing to curb COVID-19 infections—the very reason Zuma has put forward to the courts as to why he should not be imprisoned.


Last night, Zuma held a press conference at his homestead where he proceeded to make several provocative comments. According to The Guardian, Zuma drew a comparison between the current democratic courts to the Apartheid regime saying, "The fact that I was lambasted with a punitive jail sentence without trial should engender shock in all those who believe in freedom and the rule of law." More notably, he went on to add that: "South Africa is fast sliding back to Apartheid rule." For many, this is a continuation of Zuma's attack on the judiciary system, a matter that was addressed in the recent 127-page judgement against him.


Tensions are high as the South African public waits to see whether Police Minister Bheki Cele will indeed be ordered to arrest Zuma. While legal experts claim that Zuma should be arrested while he waits for the Constitutional Court to hear his appeal for the rescission on July 12, Cele has announced that the police are in no rush, saying: "We have sought clarification and are waiting for the new activities happening in court. Are we to continue as [per] the instruction? We still have time on that one."